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.
Oh man, all of you who pay money for games are getting ripped off. My PC backlog has more than doubled from promotional giveaways alone, and quite a few of them are high profile releases, too (though I can’t say too much since I bought Axiom Verge a few months before that game became free).
This is a hack ‘n’ slash. For attacks, you start off with a standard 3-hit combo (which just requires hitting the left face button) and a gun, whose ammunition is refilled by performing melee hits on enemies and scenery (hold L2 to aim and push R2 to shoot, but you can’t move and shoot at the same time). Be careful not to hit L1 when trying to shoot, though, because that uses one of your finite health-refilling items; then again, there are a bunch scattered throughout the game, so even if you do make that mistake, you’ll probably pass up a third of them due to having full health and max refills stocked (you can hold three at once). You can also push the bottom face button to dash in the direction you’re facing, which sends you forward the same amount each time. Hollow Knight had that same type of dash mechanic, and I don’t get it. Personally, I prefer Mega-Man-X-style dashing where you have to hold the button, but you can let go whenever you want to stop so you’re not forced to go the entire distance each time.
Firstly, I should state that, rather than being linear like other hack ‘n’ slash games, this game has four main areas (one for each cardinal direction), each with their own unique enemies, difficulty curve, and boss. Each area begins with just enough empty rooms to make you think you might be playing a walking simulator before slowly introducing enemies and getting more complex. While each area is mostly linear, there are branches that lead to their own linear segments, and reaching the end of one of these segments gets you a purple triangle. You need four triangles from each area combined with the pillar you activate shortly after beating the area’s boss in order to access the final area, which cuts out all those unnecessary combat parts and focuses exclusively on the empty rooms until you reach the final boss. If you end up short on triangles, there’s an NPC near the end of each of the four main areas who will mark their locations on your map. Aside from all the empty rooms, I think all of this was executed well, though there are some optional doors that require 8 triangles from an area to unlock, but you never get all 8 locations marked on your map (EDIT: this is an issue because the game sometimes hides split paths behind scenery that would otherwise be solid tiles). Also, whenever you get your fourth triangle from an area, the game plays the exact same cut-scene all four times; we get it, you saw the box art for Akira, now let me play the game.
As for level design, credit where it’s due: this is a hack ‘n’ slash with ACTUAL LEVEL DESIGN! I was beginning to think it couldn’t be done, but the madmen actually pulled it off. Sure, the core game-play still revolves around defeating enemies in a room to progress, but now the rooms have, like, holes you can fall in (but you can’t walk off; only dashing gets you over a ledge), or little barricades you can walk behind to avoid enemy projectiles. Sometimes, there are even invulnerable turrets that come out of the ground and shoot at you until either you’re out of range or you unlock the way forward. Is it used to its full potential? Far from it. Are there times where the arenas are basically just fields with seemingly-randomly placed barricades? Yes; quite a few, in fact. Are the pitfalls often shunted to the edges, essentially making them glorified arena boundaries instead of proper stage hazards? Also yes. BUT, does the addition of these elements make a positive impact on the overall experience, resulting in scenarios that simply don’t exist in most other hack ‘n’ slash games? Absolutely. My favorite part is a vertical hall in the north area where you have to dash upward across small platforms while enemies are shooting at you from the sides and flying enemies can swoop down at you; it really is a perfect example of what the game could’ve been like if these elements were expanded upon more, but it also made me wish I could control the character with the D-pad since trying to dash upward or downward with the stick would sometimes result in me dashing slightly to the side of the platform and falling down, but no, the game apparently NEEDED a button to make the protagonist sit down without any other effect or purpose. No, don’t bother using those extra four buttons for quality-of-life features that could also pave the way for more complex level design; what this game really needs is to polish the surface level details like atmosphere!
Speaking of the atmosphere, the game tries to get its story across without any text, which is fine enough, but when the game is perfectly comfortable using text to tell me how basic controls work and how to use the warp pads, why won’t the game tell me what the difference is between the sword I already have and the new sword I just got? Or what about the difference between the dash attack in the sword shop and the dash attack in the dash shop? The worst example of this is probably the charge attack: the preview only shows the larger-ranged slash, not the fact that you have to use a normal slash first, then hold the button to charge it, so the only clue you have pre-purchase that this power-up is actually completely useless in this fast-paced game is the tiny little button icon below the preview that fills with a pink bar. Pro tip: if you play this game, the first power-up you’ll want to buy is the one that lets you absorb projectiles while dashing (but sometimes it doesn’t work because maybe it only absorbs certain types of projectiles; who knows, the game never tells you). Then, buy the one that lets you dash again if you hit the dash button right after finishing your previous dash, not because of its potential uses in battle, but so you can get past the empty parts of the game quicker (if you dash too many times in a row, your character will slide forward a bit after stopping, sometimes right into a pit). After that, buy one of the dash attacks, then ignore the northern shops and focus on capacity upgrades like more gun ammo or more health-refill-pack slots.
With that said, my biggest issue with the game is with the combat. On one hand, the combat is fast paced: actions happen the moment you push the button, and enemies don’t have invincibility frames, so there’s no waiting to do more damage in that regard. However, aside from walking, everything you do results in a quarter-to-half-second delay before you can do anything else, and in a game all about reacting to attack tells as soon as possible, this can often result in times where you react in time, but your character doesn’t. Example: the moment you fire a shot or swing your sword, you see the enemy wind up for an attack, so you push the dash button, but your character doesn’t move, so you push it again, but still nothing and now you’ve taken a hit. This is especially annoying for the boss fights since they’re the type of bosses you can damage at any point in the fight (as opposed to the ones where you just avoid the boss’s attacks until it stops and shows its weak point); moments that could have been an opportunity for skilled players to get another melee hit in instead just become another pause in the pattern as you wait for when you can actually attack it (looking at you, west boss). Also, you don’t have invincibility frames, either, so if you get hit with a powerful attack that knocks you on the ground, you can easily be attacked again before you can do anything about it. Luckily, attacks that stun you aren’t too common.
Overall, while I do have issues with mechanics and game-to-player communication, this is easily the best hack ‘n’ slash game I’ve ever played. If you’re a fan of hack ‘n’ slash games, or even a fan of dungeon design form the Legend of Zelda games, I recommend checking this game out.
P.S. The west area has trees, and since the game has a top-down view, enemies can be behind the trees, meaning you may not even know they’re there until after you get hit.
Looking for a game you can play in very short bursts? Well, this is one of them
This is a runner. After picking a level and one of two playable characters, you’re sent hurtling through the stages automatically, and the only control you have is where to move on an invisible 3x3 grid in an attempt to avoid the hazards and collect the coins and jewels. To move to a specific space on the grid, you either hold the circle pad in that direction or hold the face buttons in that direction; letting go returns you to the center. The more coins and jewels you collect without taking damage, the higher your score multiplier increases, and the faster the level gets. Get hit even once, and you lose that score multiplier and a bit of health (though the level does slow down). However, you can often find shield items in the levels that let you take a hit without the aforementioned effects happening. Also, once per stage, the character you don’t pick will fly in and give you a super power-up which will cause you to charge forward really fast, defeating all enemies and collecting all coins in your way until it runs out.
There isn’t much that can be said about this game other than it’s really short. There’s a practice stage and 10 levels, and each one will only take a couple minutes to beat on a successful run (though dying means you have to start the stage from the beginning). The speed can be hectic sometimes, but it never really gets challenging until the final stage, which is where I first died. Each stage usually introduces one new enemy type, so the game has more variety than a few of the more ambitious titles I’ve played. My least favorite part of the game are the whirlwinds: they send you forward and knock out any enemies you hit for the next second, but you can’t adjust your position if you hit one, so even if you see a jewel, the game won’t let you get it. Speaking of the jewels, sometimes, the jewel is the same color as the background, meaning you won’t notice it until it’s too late. There are also achievements, so that will be a bonus for completionists.
With that said, even if you’re just a casual fan of runners, I’d say this is worth the one dollar asking price; just keep in mind that it’s only really worth it if you find that you only have a couple minutes to play games because this is one you can burn through quickly.
My brother let me borrow his entire 3DS over the holiday, so I got to play the games he bought on eShop (or, at least the ones that have more than one file. Damn you, Escape Vector!).
I’ve heard at least one person online describe the series as “baby’s first survival horror,” and as someone who hasn’t played any survival horror game at all, I don’t think that’s accurate. Survival horror games are more about conserving ammo and trying to avoid fights, right? Well, this game is quite the opposite: whenever enemies show up, you almost always have to stay and defeat all of them in order to progress to the next room, making this closer to a beat ‘em up or hack ‘n’ slash. You also don’t have to worry about ammo or weapon stamina or anything: the flashlight you use to stun ghosts never runs out of batteries, and the vacuum you use to drain ghosts’ HP (which can only be done while they’re stunned) never runs out of, uh…batteries. The Dark Light Device (which is used to make missing objects reappear) can overheat, but it quickly cools off and becomes usable again after, like, a second or two.
What the game does have in common with survival horror games are riddle-based puzzles. Sure, you only have a few things you can do, but the game regularly introduces new objects, so you have to go through the usual trial-and-error routine until you “figure out” what you have to do, and for the surprisingly frequent times where the game completely recycles these objects, there’s nothing for you to solve; you just regurgitate the actions you did last time. See a small green circle with a red rim? Use the Strobulb. See a large picture frame with a single object in it? Use the Dark Light Device. See ice or a spider web too thick to be vacuumed? Light it on fire. See a small sapling? Find a bucket and splash some water on it. I can at least see how trial-and-error riddles can be appealing, but at this point, it’s just busywork to keep the ghost-catching from becoming too monotonous. The only time in the game when this type of puzzle won’t be obvious is near the end when the map gets large enough that you might forget what all you can work with in the first place.
Speaking of the ghost catching, it works slightly different from the first game. Rather than just pointing the flashlight at the ghosts to stun them, you have to push the A button to use the Strobulb and make the flashlight…flash. While the ghost is stunned, you hold R to start vacuuming the ghost, and you can either hold back on the circle pad to drain the ghost’s HP or you can hold forward to move with the ghost in order to avoid attacks from other ghosts. While holding back, you fill up a meter, and when it gets full, you can push A to deal multiple points of damage at once, and if you defeat a ghost by doing this, you get extra money (which is used to upgrade the vacuum instead of getting you a better ending). The mechanics of this all work fine and can be fun (it’s why I played the game, after all), but there isn’t a huge variety of ghosts; the ones you’ll fight the most often are green ones (your standard “run up and hit you” enemies), blue ones (which hide in furniture and throw things at you while you try to capture other ghosts), and red ones (which are just more powerful versions of green ones; these might have attacks with longer range, though). The purple ghosts are probably the next most common, although they’re also similar to green ghosts, except rather than attack you, they just scare (stun) you for a second (I thought difficulty curves were supposed to go UP). There are more ghosts than these, but they’re few in number. I wouldn’t mind this as much if the game had…really any external hazards, but no: each room is effectively the same when it comes to fighting ghosts, with the only exceptions being a couple boss/mini boss arenas (so it’s not that different from the first game in this regard).
Another difference between this and the first game is that this one is mission based; rather than being able to save at any point by speaking to a Toad, you have to complete the mission before you can save. It isn’t a bad concept, and could even potentially play into that survival horror aspect since dying means you have to redo all those annoying riddles and repetitive ghost battles from earlier in the mission, but it isn’t uncommon for missions to have you go through the same rooms from previous missions, and since the game already doesn’t have a huge variety of enemies, it just helps make the game even more repetitive. However, what I really don’t like about this is how the game handles the optional Boo encounters: in the first game, there was one per room, and when you lit the room up (which means you defeated all the normal ghosts in the room), you could use a radar to find them. In this game, there’s one per mission, and you have no such radar. This means that, if you want 100% completion, you’ll have to check some rooms multiple times since the rooms are used in multiple missions. Plus, you don’t get the Dark Light Device (the item that lets you defeat them) until a few missions in, so you’ll also have to replay entire missions just to get them. Luckily, you don’t need to capture a certain number of Boos to beat the game like you did in the first game, so I just didn’t bother trying to find them (though I’d capture one if I stumbled across one).
The highlight of the game are the bosses, mainly because that’s where most of the game’s variety is. The first boss has you pulling a spider web ball toward a flame while sidestepping to avoid hazards. The second boss is a more traditional “avoid its attacks until its weak point appears” and, to be honest, is easier than the first boss; but, not to be outdone, it has a really annoying staircase riddle before it where if you go up the wrong one, you slide all the way back down. The third boss is just waves of normal enemies, but now you’re on a clock face and the clock hands can hurt you, so there’s at least something to distinguish it from the rest of the game.
The fourth boss completely changes the mechanics so now it’s a rail shooter, and your health is now suddenly represented by a pressure gauge on the top screen (rather than the number on the bottom screen). Also, you can only take, like, two or three hits before dying (less than any other part of the game). It’s actually kinda annoying since you have to destroy each part of the boss’s shield before you can attack it, but your projectiles are affected by gravity and the boss gets further away after each successful hit, and if you attack too early when its shields are down, the attack won’t register even if it visually connects with the boss’s weak point (and if that happens, you can’t correct this before you get hit and the boss restores its shield since there’s a full second delay between one attack and when you can attack again). In a better game, this would be one of the low points.
The final boss is also a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s one of the few times where environmental hazards are a thing, and the boss fight part was well executed. On the other hand, there’s a chase sequence between each phase of the fight, and I’m not sure if there’s a way to get past those parts unscathed. If there’s a way to slow down what’s chasing you, I never figured it out, but there’s also enough health in these parts that I never died and had to try again, so all evidence points to it being mandatory damage in an action game (which is the biggest pet peeve I never knew I had; thanks, Tales series). Plus, the halls you’re being chased down are dark, which, combined with the perspective, makes it unnecessarily difficult to tell whether you’ll make it past an object or if you’ll get caught on its corner (especially if you happen to be outside in the sun like I was).
So, would I recommend this game? Eh, not really. I can get that the riddles just aren’t for me, but the combat can also get fairly repetitive. If you do plan on playing it, I say only play one mission at a time so that the repetition doesn’t get to you as quick. Honestly, what’s up with beat ‘em ups/hack ‘n’ slash games and not having level design? It seems like it’s almost all just empty arenas with the same few enemies over and over; are there any that aren’t like that? Are there any that regularly have environmental hazards to spice up the combat, like pits or something? I know I asked this already back in my post about Nier: Gestalt, but I didn’t get any suggestions. Maybe I should just stick with platformers…
Well, it’s the Christmas season again, and that means my brothers come to visit and I get to play the games they have that I don’t! Oh, and we also exchanged presents and had family bonding experiences or something, idk.
This is an action platformer. Aside from your standard left/right movement and jump ability, you only have a gun. You can find different guns as you go along, each with its own ability and rate of fire, but you lose your new gun if you get hit or touch another gun powerup. Your movement speed and even jumping speed are slower than other games, but the levels are designed around this, being quite compact to the point where levels are only 30-60 seconds long, and the enemies only take a few hits to kill at best (usually going down in just one hit).
You may be wondering how the game keeps the player’s attention when there isn’t much the player can do nor is there any sort of player progression. Simple: the main focus of the game is on level design. Even though the levels are short and the entire game is really easy (even on hard mode, where you die in two hits), the game is really good about building on any new concepts and gimmicks it introduces, starting them off in relatively safe environments and, as you progress, adding in enemies, spikes, and even elements from earlier levels reappear a couple times (upgrading them from gimmicks to a proper recurring obstacle). Maybe I haven’t been playing the right games, but it seems like many modern games (even retro-styled ones like Celeste) abandon proper difficulty curves in favor of lateral changes, so I’ll cherish this whenever I come across it.
If I had to think of one problem, it’s that this game is perhaps even more gimmicky than other gimmicky games I’ve played recently. I know I’ve probably overused that word, but for this game, some of the gameplay elements are present for so short a time and are so underdeveloped, it really feels like they were only added to be an extra bullet-point in the advertising. For example, one level introduces a minecart segment (where you’re on rails and can only jump and shoot); after that level, you never see another minecart segment again. Same with the side-scrolling rocket level; one moment you can control vertical movement as well as horizontal movement, and in the next level, you’re back to the platforming (only this level has moon-jump physics that also never show up again after the level is over). Heck, the very first level has animals that charge at you and jump over gaps, and I’m pretty sure there are only two of those in the entire game, both of which are one right after the other in that very first level.
However, the biggest issue I have is with the train boss. Conceptually, it’s just fine: the player’s safe spot is on the left and the boss is on the right; the boss has a wind-up animation for its punch, and when it launches a bomb at the player, you can see it fly across the screen from the boss to the player’s side, and the bomb’s explosion spikes slowly come toward the player, giving plenty of time to jump over them. Plus, when it gets around half health, it starts using another attack where it sprays sludge toward the player’s side, with the player having to get behind a wall. The issue comes in when you juxtapose it next to the player’s relatively slow movement speed; yes, the punch’s wind up animation gives you just enough time to realize it’s coming and try to run away, but your movement speed means you won’t be able to make it before you get hit. Plus, even though the sludge also moves slow enough for you to react to it, it still moves faster than you can move. What’s really annoying is when it uses its sludge move right after throwing a bomb; you see the bomb coming so you try to jump over the incoming explosion spikes, but then it sprays sludge, and the safety wall is in the opposite direction you just jumped, meaning you’ll have to take a hit. In other words, this boss is less about reacting to its pattern and more about anticipating or exploiting it.
The final boss also has a sludge attack (although it sweeps the ground from above rather than spray it from the side), and yes, it also moves slightly faster than you. You can see it and start running away, but you’ll also see it slowly catching up to you until you get hit.
Oh yeah, this game is also pretty derivative. If you’re familiar with action platformers, chances are you’ll recognize the various enemies and gimmicks from other games, so if you’re one of those people who don’t like it when a game doesn’t do anything “new” or groundbreaking, then this game isn’t for you.
For everyone else, though, I highly recommend this game. It’s a bit gimmicky and there are some annoying design decisions (like those bosses), but other than that, this is a microcosm of how to do platformers right. If Celeste is supposed to be worth $20, then this is easily worth $5, except it isn’t five dollars, it’s TWO DOLLARS, which makes the game even more worth it.
The game is pretty short, though (only lasting around 40 minutes or so), so I was able to play the sequel right afterward:
Well, if there’s one thing I can say about this game, it’s that I would NOT recommend buying it…before you’ve beaten the first game, that is. This is a sequel the same way SMB: The Lost Levels is a sequel; rather than reset the difficulty curve like other sequels, this game’s difficulty curve picks up right where the last one’s left off. The only exception are the boss fights, which, outside of the last couple ones, are about the same difficulty as the bosses in the first game (maybe even a bit easier). It kinda creates this weird disconnect between levels and bosses that I haven’t seen in a game in recent memory; you have a really tough level, and it’s followed by a boss that you clear in maybe 2-3 attempts. If anything, the first game was the opposite, having bosses that were more difficult than the levels.
As far as controls go, the only noticeable difference is that, in this game, jumps are more weighty (you go through your jump arc faster) whereas the first game had more floaty jumps.
Being a sequel, this game had the opportunity to be bigger and better than the previous game, and so it expanded on the first game by adding even more gimmicks! sigh…there’s a difference between having variety and being unfocused, and this game is definitely starting to enter the latter’s territory. On one hand, the game expands on some of the previous game’s gimmicks; for example, it has one minecart level of its own, even using the previous game’s underdeveloped gravity-switching gimmick within it. On the other hand, even the very first level has collapsing buildings (that never show up again), and exactly two platforms that look like ordinary ground but start to fall down when you jump on them (that also never show up again).
This isn’t the only example of this, either. It also introduces two Starfox-esque rail-shooter levels (where you’re flying into the background and can move in cardinal directions), and just like Starfox before it, it’s really difficult to tell where you’re shooting or judge where incoming objects will end up or even see projectiles coming toward you at all, despite the 3DS’s depth slider. I seem to remember Panzer Dragoon having a targeting system, or at least an aiming-reticle of some kind (heck, I think Starfox 64 also had one), so why this game didn’t steal that concept as well, I don’t know. I will say: the second of these levels becomes a lot easier once you realize that you don’t have to fight the giant spaceship at the end; just avoid its shots for three waves and the level completes itself.
There’s also exactly one level where you’re on horseback, riding into the background. It’s easier to tell what’s going to end up where since you’re on a road and can only move left or right, but it also takes cues from old 2D racing games that had you drive into the background by having “turns”; the game pushes you in one direction and you have to fight it just to stay centered (and these segments make your shots go off-center, too, making it harder to aim).
There’s also exactly one level where you ride a panda bear. The main difference between this and the minecart level is that the panda can run (hold forward) and climb vertically (triggered automatically by colliding with a wall, although the climbing speed is much slower than the walking speed). However, this level has another gimmick: you’re being chased by a giant saw, so if you move too slow, you die. This means that the level is less about avoiding hazards and more about blindly running forward, trying not to get caught up on any walls lest they slow you down too much. Also, at the end, you have to make a huge jump right at the ledge or you fall down and die; this is an issue because you’re high enough that you won’t be able to see far down enough to know that the normal ground ends there as well (until this point in the level, all gaps in the ground were small enough that you could short-hop over them, and they never appeared while you were on a higher platform).
There’s also exactly one level that has…that dinosaur with the long neck and tail (Brachiosaurus, I think? That one looks about right). They bob their head and necks up and down, but in an arch rather than vertically, making it unnecessarily difficult to jump on the head of one from its neck. You have to do this near the beginning to reach a higher platform, and the slightest mistake in timing or accuracy causes you to slide off either the left or right side, one of which sends you into a pit and kills you. This is the hardest part of this level.
There’s also exactly one level where you ride on a triceratops, though this level is better executed than some of the game’s other gimmicks since it’s basically another auto-scroller, but now you have a bit of leniency with left/right movement (though the triceratop’s head damages you).
There’s also exactly one level that takes place on top of the water, where you have to jump across platforms that are affected by the waves. Personally, I’m glad this only lasts for one level since the movement of platforms is rather irregular: rather than bob up and down like water-affected platforms in other games, these move in the shape of a baseball diamond (angle up-left, then arc to the right, then angle down-left to the original position), with each platform starting the pattern one after the other from right to left. My biggest issue is that the timing between when the pattern stops and when it starts up again doesn’t seem to be consistent, and this is something you have to get right if you want to make some of these jumps. This is also the only level with a mini-boss.
To be fair, there is one underdeveloped gimmick from the previous game that this game gives lots of focus: the gravity-switching mechanic. Not only is it used in this game’s only minecart level, but the game makes you do some trickier jumps with it, and there’s even an entire boss fight built around the mechanic. There’s even a part in the minecart level where the track makes a circle, and the gravity mechanic lets you ride around it; my only issue with this part is that there’s a spike near the bottom-right, so if you miss the jump that lets you progress, you can’t just keep looping around (and this is especially annoying since you’ll be coming at the jump vertically rather than horizontally, meaning you have less time to react to it).
Furthering the expansion of the gravity mechanic, the final level has you jumping across small circular platforms with gravity pointing toward each side, so you can run around the entire circle. This is fine in theory, but it has the same issue that Strider 2014 does where holding a direction that starts your movement doesn’t continue your movement around the circle, making it a little bit awkward to make jumps or run away from projectiles. Also, throughout both games, there’s an enemy that hides under the floor and can open a hatch to shoot at you; the hatch, like most enemies from both games, is blue (distinguishing it from the first game’s otherwise brown visuals), and the game’s perspective usually lets you see the floor clearly. However, near the end of this level, the hatch is placed high enough that the perspective (perhaps combined with the 3DS’s resolution) results in it being, like, one pixel high (and the level’s background is also blue), so you won’t really be able to see the enemy until you get hit (and this is near the end of the level, so getting killed by this unfair placement makes you redo quite a lot).
As most sequels are wont to do, this game does reuse enemies from the previous game while also adding a few new enemies. However, all of the new enemies take multiple hits to kill, resulting in a slower-paced game than last time. There’s a new sumo wrestler enemy that just stands still and jabs its arms to the side, and they really only exist to be meatshields. The only exception is one vertical segment that lasts exactly one screen, where you have to climb a ladder while the sumo wrestlers are off to the side and can jab into the ladder to damage you. There’s also a ninja enemy that doesn’t spawn until you get close enough, then it jumps up from behind the floor and throws projectiles downward at an angle. Similar to the sludge from last game, your movement speed (which is unchanged from last game) isn’t exactly built to allow you to react, so you kinda have to learn where they are and figure out where the safe spot is ahead of time in order to avoid their attacks.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about the game’s final boss. It comes right after another hard boss that could also easily work as the final boss, but rather than have two phases, it has five. It’s a giant humaniod robot, and you have to damage each segment of it to climb up until you reach the top and can damage the real weak point. The boss itself is probably easier than the previous boss, but it will probably take longer since you have to learn each segment and redo each earlier segment if you fail on the later segments, not to mention having to climb up and wait on each part of the boss to do its thing before you can reach the current weak point (and the legs have a move where they slide together, so you just have to duck and wait it out). Also, this is one of only two bosses that shoots a laser; there’s no visual cue for them, just a sound effect and the boss becoming stationary, “looking” in a certain direction before the giant hazard suddenly appears.
Overall, this game definitely isn’t as well made as the previous game, but it’s still okay. Plus, it’s only three dollars, so if you like the first game, this is still worth checking out despite its flaws.
I actually beat both of those games before Christmas. The reason I haven’t made this post until now is because I also wanted to beat this game:
This is a collectathon platformer. You start off with your standard movement, short-range attack, and double jump, but you’ll unlock a new ability for each world you unlock (and you can buy more abilities within said worlds). As with all collectathon platformers, the goal is to explore the worlds looking for the designated collectible (in this case, golden pages with faces called “pagies”), and for this game, you stay in the level when you get one rather than being booted back to the hub like Super Mario 64 or Fluidity.
Aside from the 25 pagies in the hub, the game has five worlds with 25 pagies each. Sure, the total number of worlds is lower than your average N64 collectathon platformer, but the worlds themselves are larger. Personally, I think they’re a bit too large; the advent of more powerful tech means that the large, empty areas between collectibles can be even larger (this is especially noticeable in the casino world where you have to go all the way back to the beginning to cash out your tokens to get the level’s pagies). Sure, the game is still pretty good about giving you various things to do throughout the different areas so the empty areas aren’t too large (especially compared to some other open world games I’ve played), but I prefer more concise areas like Mumbo Mountain, or pretty much any stage from Super Lucky’s Tale.
And yeah, you do have an ability that lets you move faster, but it consumes a slowly-refilling stamina meter, so it can’t be used all the time.
However, what I really don’t like is how the game arbitrarily restricts content in earlier levels until you’ve reached a certain point in the game. Not only are there certain pagies that can’t be accessed until you’ve obtained a certain ability (sometimes requiring an ability from the last world) but worlds also have certain areas that outright don’t spawn until you spend enough pagies to “expanded” the world. I’m someone who prefers to (try to) 100% the first area of a collectathon before moving on, so it really bothers me when a game puts up these roadblocks; I made it there, but now I gotta exit the world, go forward in the hub to unlock another world, get a new power, then backtrack to where I was just to get the collectible I was already almost at (and at that point, why bother? Why not just continue moving forward? You’re already invested in the next world). What I really don’t understand is that some people praise this design philosophy as “I can explore new areas in previous worlds that I couldn’t explore before” when it really is just roadblocks and backtracking; just look up some of the reviews of Super Mario Odyssey, that game does the same thing. It’s been a few years since I 100%ed Banjo Kazooie (or at least got every jiggy, note, and jinjo), but I distinctly remember that that game was really good about NOT doing this; if there was a collectible that required a power you didn’t have, it was either obtained in that very world (kinda like a typical Zelda dungeon), or in a previous world and you missed it. It also stopped introducing new powers around the half-way point and started focusing a bit more on skillful use of the powers you did have.
However, what really gets to me about that design choice is that the game actually kinda tries to have a difficulty curve. Sure, there are still relatively challenging tasks in early levels and relatively easy tasks in later levels, but you can see a general rise in difficulty from one world to the next, especially if you compare recurring elements like boss fights (which also tweak their patterns as you damage them) and the minecart minigames. For example, in the first world, the green-spires-that-don’t-look-harmful-but-actually-are-because-they-have-small-thorns-on-them can only be found next to the boss if you’re looking in world 1, but if you’re looking in world 3, they’re scattered throughout.
Speaking of the minecart segments, out of all the parts of the game I kinda like, those are the part I like the least. Obviously, its on rails, so you move automatically, and you can assume that you can jump during these parts as well, but the game gives you a bit more things you can do: you can use the left stick to boost or brake, and you can also fire a projectile. That doesn’t seem so bad, but the problems start to show up when you realize just how restrictive the controls are: when you fire a projectile, you’re forced to wait around 3-5 seconds before you can fire a second projectile, and so on. Plus, once you use the boost or brakes, you’re committed to that move: whether you’re speeding up or slowing down, the cart keeps its new speed for a solid two seconds, and it’s another 1-2 seconds before you can activate either one again (and when you have to make precision inputs, those two seconds make all the difference). Adding insult to injury, you can’t short-hop, either; the slightest tap of the jump button will commit the cart to its fullest jump. To top it all off, it’s possible to jump if you push the button right after the minecart falls off a rail, but on top of being unreliable, the minecart segment in the fourth world (all but) requires you to perform this trick to get enough gems to pass, which would easily make it harder than the 5th level’s minecart segment even if that wasn’t how the game forces you to fight the world 4 boss (also, you and the boss are on a circular track, so you have to wait for it to charge you (i.e. get dangerously close to you) or your bullet goes in front of the boss).
With all that said, there is a lot to like here. A decent amount of the collectibles’ challenges focus on platforming or some other skill-based timed challenge, and these are pretty fun. It’s part of why I can enjoy collectathons and metroidvanias even though I’ve never been a big fan of exploration by itself. The game is also pretty good about doing wordless tutorials; for example, before you reach world 2, you come across a bridge with wind blowing across it, and beside the bridge, some glowing bowling balls (or cannon balls, whatever). In world 2, one of the abilities you can get will let you take on the properties of an object you eat, and since both the bowling balls and wind were juxtaposed right next to each other, it doesn’t take much thought to figure out that eating one of the bowling balls will prevent wind from pushing you until the effect runs out. I do wish that the game would let you unlock, like, a map or radar ability when you beat the game so that you don’t have to wander around the entire huge maps looking for the last couple collectibles you’re missing (this goes double since the game blocks certain ones until you spend enough pagies or get a certain ability).
So, on one hand, the game has a decent amount of platforming and timed challenges, but on the other hand, a decent amount of the collectibles’ challenges are based on riddles. For those of you who missed my rant about that, I’ve never been a fan of riddles because, by their very nature, there’s nothing about them that requires you to think about your situation; you either know exactly what to do, resulting in an obvious, boring segment, or you don’t know what to do and you’re forced to resort to trial-and-error or look up a walkthrough. For example, in the first world, one of the ways to get a pagie is by talking to the knights in a certain order; when you find the first one, it gives a hint to where the next one is, and so on. However, if you’ve been to the areas they “hint” at, then the hints are super obvious (e.g. only one NPC can be a “ramp pro” since only one NPC is even near a ramp to begin with, much less has any kind of focus toward one). However, if you haven’t been to the area(s) in question, you’ll have no idea what the knight is talking about and you’ll just have to wander around the map until you stumble across it. Neither option presents any kind of challenge, much less an interesting challenge. For another example, in the expanded ice world, there’s a Lost-Woods/Forest-Maze-styled four-exit room, and you have to figure out which path takes you to the next room so you can avoid the paths that send you back to the beginning. If you go down the correct path, you can see that the floor has added an extra purple tile to the floor (the first room only has one purple tile). If there was a trick to figuring out which path is correct, I never found it, but even then, you’d only have to look for whatever detail indicates the correct path, which I doubt would take much effort. On the other hand, you could do what I did and just pick a path until you happen across the next room, and keep it up until you reach the end. To add insult to injury, the pagie at the end of this path is trapped behind a light-reflecting gimmick, except the room only has one ice block while the light has to be reflected twice. What do you do? Maybe one of your abilities lets you reflect light? No other segment in the game involves reflecting light (at least, none that I found; I admit I didn’t 100% this game). I did figure out that the invisibility power will reflect the light, but only by trial and error, a.k.a. the only way to solve a riddle by yourself when you don’t already know the answer. There are even some riddles that I gave up on and left unsolved (for me, at least). For example, how do you capture the teleporting ghost? Is there a power you have to use? Is there some pattern to its movement? Do you just have to get lucky? I managed to get one of them, but haven’t been able to recreate that success.
And yeah, Banjo Kazooie (and even Super Mario 64) has its fair share of riddles, too. I didn’t like those riddles, either. I haven’t played Banjo Tooie yet, but I would be surprised if it didn’t have some as well.
However, what is easily the worst part of Banjo Kazooie is the mandatory quiz right before the final boss, and this game of course brings that back because, as we all know, every aspect of Banjo Kazooie is a flawless masterpiece, and blatantly copying what it did can only result in good. The main difference is that, while Banjo Kazooie had one large quiz board, with dedicated tiles for each subject (and even split paths), this game has three mandatory, strictly-linear 10-tile boards that show up at different points of the game, with each tile being generic, so any subject can be asked at any point. Even if we set aside my dislike for riddle-based gameplay, the quiz questions very clearly encourage the player to explore the worlds, but the worlds themselves discourage exploration since there are various areas that outright can’t be reached unless you have a power from a world beyond the quiz. At least be consistent with what you want the player to do! I would have preferred if the main bosses were mandatory instead (as it is, you have to find them in their worlds, with at least one only being in the expanded version of its world).
There’s also at least one optional quiz hosted by a pagie, and with such detailed questions like “treasures+boxes=?” you might not realize that you’re being asked about the quantity of objects within the room until after you fail the quiz and see the dialogue for trying again (and even if you did glean that from the question, you might not have thought to take that initiative before speaking to the pagie).
I also have some issues with the final boss. For most games, the final boss is supposed to be the ultimate test of how well you’ve learned the game’s mechanics and how they interact with the game’s enemies and other objects, so naturally, this game decides to introduce a completely new enemy (besides the boss itself) that you have to lean how to deal with. At first, you might think you just have to run away from it, but once you reach the fourth phase or so, you won’t be able to do that and damage the boss, so it becomes another riddle; you have to figure out which of your moves will get rid of the new enemy. That’s not testing what you know as much as it is making you learn something new (and right at the end, too; that’s always been a pet peeve of mine).
The rest of the fight is pretty okay, if a bit lengthy. For the first two phases, the only issue I had is that you have to manually move the camera if you want to keep track of the boss; even Sonic 2006 knew to keep the camera’s focus on the boss for boss fights (yes, I own and beat Sonic 2006). All the other phases keep the camera focused on the center of the now-ring-shaped arena, and for the parts where the boss stomps the floor and sends shock-waves along the ground, it works quite well, but when the boss starts shooting homing missiles and flying around the edge of the arena, it takes some getting-used-to since the camera continues to focus on the arena’s center, meaning you can’t focus on the boss or the missiles.
Lastly, I’d like to mention a couple glitches I encountered. One of the powers you can get will latch on to grapple points and sling you toward them, but only if the camera is facing them (your character can be facing them, but if the camera isn’t, it won’t count). One segment in the expanded swamp world has a pagie in a cage, and normally, you would have to jump on small platforms that shoot flames up in order to hit a switch to open the cage. However, there’s a grapple point near this cage, and I accidentally grappled on it while the cage was between the grapple point and myself, causing me to clip through the cage and get the pagie early. On a less helpful note, I tried to exit a large door in world 5 while in flight mode, and the game softlocked.
Overall, this game is okay. It wanted to be a game just like those old N64 era collectathons, and it succeeded in being just like them, mistakes and all. If you’re a fan of those old collectathons, you’ll probably enjoy this, but you might wanna replay those old games before committing to a purchase; look at them with a fresh perspective. For more general platformer fans like myself, I say wait for a good sale.
P.S. This game has a limited variety of enemies. The most common just rush at you and can be taken out whenever, and there are two segments where you have to fight waves of them to get a pagie. The second most common are pairs of eyes that can commandeer destructible scenery to attack you. There are also flying enemies that can shoot projectiles. What’s annoying about these last two enemy types is that as soon as they go into attack mode, even while they’re still stationary, you can’t damage them with your attack, and if you try, you’ll most likely end up running into them and damaging yourself. There’s also a strongman enemy that operates under the same principle, except its vulnerable state is really short and it takes multiple hits to kill, so it’s better just to pass this enemy up than to try to wait multiple times for the very small window of time you can attack it.
P.P.S. Each world has an “arcade” minigame that you can play to get a pagie, and if you play it a second time, you can see the high scores, and beating the highest score will get you a second pagie. I don’t mind the high score requirement for a second one, but I do wish that the game shows you the high scores the first time so that you don’t have to play the exact same mini-game twice just to get the second pagie. Honestly, this is another reason I decided not to 100% the game.
Also, I played just enough of Nightmare Boy to realize I probably won’t like it. Damage sponges that take a solid 2-4 seconds of hammering the attack button to kill, plus enemies that blend in with the background or are even the same color as background objects (pumpkins vs. flames) and flying enemies that (at least seemingly) randomly spawn from above AND you have to be near the top of the camera to jump upward, all within the first thirty SECONDS of game-play? I can’t say I’m a fan. Not since Nier: Gestalt have I seen an intro segment that very clearly showcased the game’s problems upfront like this.
I will mention some positive points about the game: movement isn’t momentum-based, so you can stop moving in midair simply by letting go of the D-pad or control stick. Also, the supposed-to-lose boss fight before the game begins has decent conveyance for its attacks (until you win too much and a projectile suddenly flies toward you).
I actually beat another game about a week ago (even have the post typed up), but Imgur keeps stalling at 57-58% when I try to upload my .apng files (does anyone know of an image-hosting site compatible with .apngs that doesn’t force a reupload if the upload stalls?), so I guess I’ll post this one first:
This is a Metroidvania. Aside from your standard movement and jump ability, you can shoot, but only up, down, and sideways as opposed to diagonally; however, your default gun auto-aims at nearby enemies, and the grenade launcher you get later on keeps forward momentum if you shoot up while moving. As with most Metroidvanias, there will be power-specific roadblocks; for example, grey rocks that have yellow cracks and flash red can be destroyed with a charge shot from your standard gun, but grey rocks that have red cracks and flash red can only be destroyed with a grenade.
To compare this with some other games I’ve posted about: the stages are decently compact like Axiom Verge, but unlike that game, the character’s movement speed is brisk, so if you find yourself having to backtrack, especially across empty rooms that really only exist to trigger cutscenes, it doesn’t take as long. Also unlike Axiom Verge, hard mode doesn’t make enemies more tedious to kill. I really don’t get why people think “enemies with more hp and nothing else different = hard”; it’s not just lazy, it’s bad design. Granted, this game isn’t much less lazy since the only thing that seems to be different about hard mode is that it takes less hits for you to die. Maybe Wario Land 4 spoiled me, but I think if an action game is going to have a hard mode, it shouldn’t do so by making enemies take more hits to kill; the least it should do is alter enemy placement, which even Little Samson (an NES game made in 1992) managed to do, but my ideal hard mode would also change level design (not unlike what Pink Hour and Pink Heaven do), and maybe even give enemies new attack patterns. It would give people an actual reason to replay the game on a higher difficulty, especially when said difficulties only unlock when the game is beaten.
With that said, even this game’s hard mode isn’t very hard. Even if you factor in attacks that aren’t well choreographed, this game is way easier than something like Celeste, even though both have a similar “keep introducing new things even in late game” approach to design. However, unlike Celeste, this game doesn’t stagnate. This game may be easier, but it does increase in difficulty, introducing enemies and bosses with more complex attack patterns rather than just new gimmicks. Most bosses even have a second phase to them, (though, oddly, the second phase of the fights almost always seem to be easier than the first phase; even for the final boss, I beat its final phase on my first try). Even if you think Celeste is Game of the Year, you have to admit that the vast majority of its challenges basically boil down to “jump and/or dash through a narrow spike corridor.” On the other hand, this game isn’t just “corridor with some enemies you shoot”; the game varies it up by having you hit switches in time so a door will open and let another door through, then block it on the way back, or maybe you’ll be hanging on a constantly-descending chain, and you have to time grenade shots into small corridors you can’t get in yourself. With that said, these rooms are pretty hit-and-miss; some of them present interesting timed challenges, but quite a few of them just end up being a series of switches with little action required. I’m guessing these were supposed to be puzzles, but for the most part, the only reason you won’t instantly figure out what to do is because the room is larger than one screen and you haven’t seen everything you can interact with yet (and even then, you can pretty much just hit the switches as you go and you’ll end up solving the puzzle without realizing there was a puzzle there). In other words, if you’re not good with puzzles, don’t worry (and if you’re looking for good puzzles, look elsewhere). The exceptions are when the game introduces something in these rooms, so you have to go through trial-and-error to figure out what you’re supposed to do. There was only one time where one of these rooms actually stumped me for a bit, but even then, the room was fairly small (two screens tall, one screen wide), meaning there wasn’t much I could do in the first place, so it didn’t take long for me to implement the solution by accident.
Oh, and there are also fake walls in this game, too. Sometimes, you’ll see a small indentation on the wall to indicate the secret, or maybe you can be in an adjacent room and see an isolated room leading back, but no apparent way to reach said path; other times, it will just look like an ordinary wall until you get right next to it. I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of fake walls (especially when there’s no real indication of their existence), but these are mostly used for hiding optional crafting materials, so it’s not so bad.
One thing I like about the game is that it’s fairly fast-paced. Not only is the main character’s movement speed decently fast (on top of having responsive controls), but she can also fire the main gun very rapidly without having to stop or anything, so even enemies that take a few hits to die can be dealt with nearly instantly. The gun also has a charge attack, but afterward, you have to wait for a cooldown bar to run out before you can shoot again, so it’s only really useful for roadblocks and certain enemies that can’t be dealt with otherwise. The grenade only lets you shoot around one per second (and then you have to wait another couple seconds for it to explode if you need to get rid of a roadblock), but it explodes instantly if it hits an enemy. Plus, it can take out certain enemies in one hit. Besides the charge attack, the only attack she has that breaks this fast-paced trend is the stomp; once you land, it takes around half a second to recover, so if you just barely miss an enemy, it can turn around and hit you before you can move.
So, the main character is fine, but there are two stretches where the game makes you play as another, secondary character, and this is one of the game’s lower points. This character moves at (around) the same speed, but both of her attacks are terrible. Her melee attack has a half-second wind up animation, and her range attack, while longer and with more aiming options than the main character’s gun, can only fire one shot at a time and has a full-second reloading animation play out after you fire before you can move again. However, the worst part is that the first segment you play as her isn’t built around her abilities; you fight standard soldiers, whose AI is very much meant for the main character and her fast paced weapons. Not only do they take a few hits to kill (so you can’t just sneak up on them and snipe them), but in the time it takes for you to reload after you shoot one, they can run up to you, throw a grenade at you, and deal damage to you (but you can’t just run past them since they can turn around and shoot at you as you flee, and then you’re trapped between enemies). The second (and, thankfully, only other) segment where you play as the secondary character has you keeping up with a moving platform while you have to shoot chain chomps (which only appear in this hallway) out of your way. It’s much more in-line with her abilities, but, of course, the chain chomps take two hits to kill, which, combined with the reload delay, means the platform has to move fairly slowly to let you keep up with it (once again throttling the game’s pace). There’s also one stretch where you have to play as a third character who moves so slow, it’s almost a parody (his melee attack is even slower than the last character’s, but he has a parry attack that works instantly). There aren’t even many enemies in this segment (like, three or four); it’s mostly just walking across empty halls. Luckily, these three segments don’t take up much of the game.
Back on the subject of comparing games, I want to bring up the game’s trinket system because I’ve played Hollow Knight and think this game does the badge system way better. In Hollow Knight: badges are either found in the wild or purchased from a store; each badge takes up a set number of slots, so if you have three slots, you could equip three 1-point badges or one 1-point and one 2-point, etc., and you can only swap badges at save points. Most badges, like the 1-point “show where you are on the map” badge won’t break, but there are three “fragile” badges (hp up, atk up, and money-dropped-from-enemies up); if you die with a “fragile” badge equipped, the badge breaks, and the only way to repair it is to backtrack to the NPC who sold it to you and pay to get the badge repaired. Not only is the backtracking annoying, but you’ll also need all the attack upgrades you can get if you don’t want battles against common enemies to drag on for longer than they reasonably should (assuming you also want to avoid getting hit). In contrast, while Iconoclasts also won’t let you change equipped trinkets outside of a save point, getting hit once will break the first equipped trinket, and getting hit again will break the next, and so on. That may seem worse, but to repair the slots, you only need to kill enemies and break statues (former scenery); doing so will fill up a bar, and once it’s full, the trinket and its effects are restored, no annoying backtracking required. Sure, you need the plan for the trinket, the materials to craft it, and a crafting table to make the trinket, but aside from ivory, none of them are hard to come by. Each trinket only takes up one slot as well (though I never found a way to increase slots beyond the default 3). My only issue is that the trinkets are more than just not balanced well; the “take a hit without taking damage” trinkets are obviously the best ones, and not just because of how hard mode works: wrench-attack-up seems nice until you remember that your gun has 3x its range; the effect of walking-speed-up is hardly perceptible (at least, with only one of it equipped, it is) and costs ivory; hold-breath-longer is unnecessary since, aside from one optional area, the game is built around not having them equipped; detonate-grenades-remotely is, again, really only needed for one chest (if that much) and costs ivory; larger-grenade-explosion isn’t even available until near the end when it has even less potential use (and costs ivory); etc.
However, if I had to pick the worst part of the game, it would be…well, it would be the segment where you have to fight ordinary soldiers as the secondary character, but the fight against Agent White is pretty bad, too. It starts out fine where you have to move some platforms to run away, but then the game decides a hallway with spike walls close together is a good place to introduce its terrible ice physics. You think intentionally slippery controls are bad? They are, but this game might have them beat: right after the cut-scene showing the floor turn to ice, your character suddenly moves forward automatically with no control over speed or direction, and the only way to get past the spike walls is to duck, but ducking is randomly disabled while on ice; jumping is the only way to duck for this segment (and doing so temporarily speeds you up). The game tries to show you this, but it’s just a slipping animation instead of an actual jump, so most people would think it’s part of the cutscene. However, not only does the game introduce bad ice physics in a dangerous environment, but said ice physics never show up again, not even in the snow area. This type of stuff is why that “introduce new things throughout the whole game” philosophy is bad design; too much, and it just becomes one-note gimmicks with neither a proper introduction nor decent…anything, really.
Buuut wait, there’s moooore! After the ice floor, there’s a slow auto-scrolling section where you run away from a laser beam pushing a canister slowly toward you, and the only thing you need to watch out for is when it hits another canister; that will cause an explosion particle to fly out suddenly toward you (and explosion particles hurt you in this game), and you’ll get hit if you aren’t ducking (unless you’re on the opposite end as the laser, in which case you’ll be hit regardless). Explosion particles show up throughout the game, but this is the only time a laser beam pushes these canisters together, and the only other time in the game these canisters show up is a few minutes earlier in the game where they’re enemies (and without a laser in sight). Once again, the game introduces a concept in a dangerous way, then said concept never shows up again. To add insult to injury, the actual boss fight against Agent White has a bunch of fast attacks with no conveyance; luckily, the fight itself is short.
The game actually does things like this a bunch. For example, there’s a “stealth” segment where you have to hide from an invisible boss, then come out and shoot at the boss when you see grass get tossed up from the ground. Both before and after the fight, you’re told you’ll still need stealth skills afterward; you don’t. The worst example of this is probably the dark halls; you’re dropped into a pitch black hall and have to figure out on your own that spinning your wrench is what gives you a small light to see if there are any hazards right in front of you. You also only need this knowledge for less than 1/3rd of an area since some of those dark rooms have enough lights that you can see where to go (and sure enough, after this 1/3rd of an area, darkness never shows up again). Plus, this is where the game introduces literal damage sponges: blue blobs that move really slowly, deal contact damage, and take a solid 10 seconds of nonstop tapping of the shoot button to kill (though the last gun you get can take them out in ~3 shots). Dare I say, this game worse than Celeste in regard to gimmick exclusivity.
The final area is also very underwhelming. It’s just a series of generic halls where you’re locked in a room and have to fight a couple waves of enemies to progress; the only thing different about them from the rest of the game is that you have to use the swap gun to get rid of yet another newly-introduced gimmick so you can deal damage to them (you don’t get the swap gun until late in the game, by the way). Aside from that gimmick (heck, even with that gimmick), this segment enters beat-em-up levels of repetition: it’s just the same enemies you’ve fought throughout the rest of the game, but now in basic sine-curve arenas; no stage hazards or platforming to make the fights interesting or anything. I do appreciate how there’s no actual point-of-no-return, though (the game makes you think there will be one a couple times, but then gives you an out when you make it past the segment).
Oh, and the swap gun displays a giant “X” not only if you can’t swap with the target (e.g. a solid wall), but also if you miss, and since the first enemy in the final area is just small enough that your shots go over it, I didn’t realize that’s what I needed to do and was stuck for a while. It would’ve helped if the “X” only showed up for unswappable things, with another effect (like cutoff) used for missing the target.
Before my verdict, I’ll say one more positive thing about the game: it’s a PS Vita port of an indie game without blatant bugs! There was one point where I fell about half a unit through the floor and I thought “uh oh, looks like I finally found a bug,” but no, it was an indication for the location of a fake floor (well, it was still a floor, but you could drop down this one unlike the solid floors it looked like).
Overall, this game is okay. If you’re a fan of Metroidvanias, I say pick it up on sale, or if you have a PS Vita, you can get a free trial of PS Plus from Playstation’s website and play it for free this month (just remember to deactivate “automatic renewal”). The game does a lot of things better than other games I’ve played recently, but it’s also a good example of why I’m not a fan of “variety by slash-and-burn”-style games: new gimmicks and hazards should be introduced in safe ways, then built upon, not used once and discarded, and new game-play mechanics really shouldn’t be introduced after, like, the halfway point. Why do so many games do this? WHY??
P.S. Speaking of things that aren’t well choreographed, when you first get a key and go back to unlock the lock, the deer enemy is introduced…by jumping out of the ground right in front of you during your walk back. There’s no indication that the deer is there (unlike the other times deer show up), either. It would have been better if the deer jumped out from behind right when the key is collected.
Normally, I try to wait until a game is 66+% off before buying it, but this particular game never seemed to go below 50%. A few months ago, I finally broke down and decided to buy it at 50% off, but then I started to get worried that another, better deal would come along before I got to playing it, so even though I usually try to play my games in the order I buy them, I made an exception for this one.
This is a Metroidvania. You start off with just movement and jump abilities, but if you go left a couple screens, you get a gun that lets you shoot in the 8 cardinal directions, as well as letting you go to the right, which is where most of the game takes place. As you explore, you’ll come across new powers, like a drill that can break certain tiles, a distortion beam that can toggle collision between certain other tiles, a drone that you can use to scout ahead and brute-force enemies without actually taking damage yourself, and of course, new guns. However, unlike traditional Metroid games, the guns you find don’t combine all of their powers into a single shot; only one can be equipped at a time (you use the right stick to select which one to equip), and only a couple of them are needed for general progression (though I’m not sure how you’re supposed to avoid getting hit by certain bosses without the Plasma Beam equivalent (shoot through enemies)).
The game’s controls are decently implemented and fairly responsive. There’s no momentum, so the moment you stop pressing forward, your character stops moving forward, which helps with the platforming. You can also hold down L to lock your aim in a specific direction, so you can shoot up and at an angle while jumping without moving forward as well. When you get the distortion beam, it’s mapped to a very specific rectangle on the upper-right side of the front touch screen, so you won’t really be able to use it while jumping, but the game is designed in a way that you don’t really need to; all distortable blocks can be reached while standing on the ground. My biggest issue with the controls is that dashing is mapped to double-tapping forward rather than a specific button; it’s not so bad at first when all you can do with it is phase past single-tile-wide walls, but when you level it up to a proper dash move and you make it to the late game (where you need to dash through enemies and their projectiles to avoid getting hit), having to double-tap forward each time can be rather cumbersome and perhaps even a bit unresponsive. There’s even a simple way the developers could have given it it’s own button: make the drill power (which the game maps to R) into another equip-able gun. There’s already a gun you can get that fires short-range bursts of electricity, so having a gun that keeps a drill out while you hold the attack button isn’t that much of a stretch.
Plus, since dashing is mapped to double-tapping forward, there were a few times I’d try inching forward and accidentally dash instead, which got on my nerves, needless to say.
The game also does a pretty good job of letting you know what each power does. When you get the “phase past single-tile-wide walls” power, you have to drop down into a pit that you can’t jump out of, so you have to phase through the walls. When you get the drill, you’re right next to tiles that are clearly distinct from the surrounding ones, and sure enough, they can be drilled through. There are only two parts that could use some more conveyance: the level 2 distortion beam can solidify acid pools, but only ones in a very specific room (I was turned around for, like, half an hour before figuring that out), and the drill is the only way to kill the gas-spewing enemies in the upper area of the fourth zone (the only enemy that can only be killed with the drill IIRC). Maybe, when you first get the drill, the game could lock the room and spawn one of those enemies; that way, when the gun doesn’t work, the player will naturally think to try out the new item.
As far as level design goes…well, maybe I’m not as big a fan of Metroidvanias as I thought I was, but movement speed seems a bit slow considering how spacious many of the game’s rooms are (and there are no speed power-ups or run button; the closest you get is the ability to teleport to where your drone is, so you throw it forward, teleport, then throw it again, but you don’t get that power until late game), not to mention that there are a few vertical segments that just consist of “platform above and to the left with geemer equivalent, platform above and to the right with another geemer equivalent, repeat.” The game also likes hiding enemies under the ground with no indication that they’re there, then have them jump out at you right when you’re in range to get hit by them (it’s like the game expects you to use that drone constantly to scout ahead). However, the part of the game I liked the least was in the left part of Edin: there’s a segment where you have to look for a spot in the ceiling thin enough where you can phase upward through it, but there are homing flying enemies right above there that will swarm you the moment you teleport past. Not only are they high enough that they’re off-screen before you phase upward (so you won’t see them until it’s too late), and not only is the ceiling wide enough that you can’t snipe them beforehand, but they also take 2-3 hits each to kill (at least, they do on Hard mode), so there isn’t a way to avoid getting hit.
With that said, the interconnection between the different areas is well done. You can go from the first to the fourth area almost without having to backtrack at all, and at that point, you only go back and forth between the third and fourth areas for a bit until you get the grappling hook. At that point, you can access a center hallway that lets you ride a fast-moving statue-head to the different tunnels that lead to the different areas, and once you find where to go next, you can go through two new areas in a row before being placed only a few rooms away from an area you couldn’t reach before but can reach now, which leads to another new area. After that new area, the next destination is the final one, whose entrance is a couple areas away, but as mentioned previously, you can use the center tunnel to get closer to that area faster.
Similar to the level design, the bosses are also hit-and-miss. The first few bosses are okay, but the fourth boss (the scorpion one) can only be damaged if a bullet connects with the bottom of it, but there’s only one unit between it and the ground, so you can’t walk there. Maybe you can use the drone, which is one unit high and also recently acquired? Nope; the game won’t let you send out the drone during boss fights, so what you have to do is duck and shoot and wait for it to sit on your row of bullets, resulting in a pretty boring fight (unless you found an optional gun that has bullets that shoot other bullets perpendicular to them at regular intervals, at which point the boss is still boring, but the fight goes by quicker since the bullets will shoot up at the boss even when it doesn’t sit on them).
There’s also a bee boss near the end that can only be damaged if you shoot its mouth when its open, but the rest of its body can block your shots. That’s one thing, but it also has an attack where it suddenly dashes forward, and you can’t really dodge it since you don’t have the dash move at this time (you can’t jump up to shoot the boss from the side since it’s too high up and there are no real platforms; you can only hit the boss attacking up at an angle). If that wasn’t enough, the boss will also, at regular intervals, spawn three flying homing enemies that re-home and speed up when they get near you, making them harder to dodge (especially when there are three of them). Now, I admit that the boss isn’t that difficult if you use the enemy-piercing weapon since you can easily shoot through the boss’s stinger (which would otherwise block many of your shots), but again: that gun is an optional find, and I’m still not sure if it’s possible to avoid all of the boss’s attacks with it.
(Side note: apparently, one of the differences between Normal and Hard is that bosses move faster, so maybe the bee’s dash move isn’t as sudden on Normal.)
The final boss is even more nuts. The weak point is stationary, and the boss itself doesn’t have any attacks, but it spawns three giant flying drone enemies that take positions based on where you are. During the first phase, they fire solid beams (as opposed to individual projectiles), and sometimes, when they reposition themselves, they do it while firing the laser, essentially sweeping the arena with unavoidable damage. Sure, you can kill the drones (and sometimes get some health back in doing so), but it takes far longer to kill them than it takes for the boss to spawn another one (10-15 seconds to kill with constant bombardment from you vs. ~5 seconds for another to spawn). Sure, you have the dash by this point, but you can’t dash while ducking (and you’ll probably end up ducking to avoid when they shoot lasers near the floor since jumping over them/dashing past them just makes them turn around). Sure, you can use a distortion bomb (which you don’t get until near the end of the game, and which have limited ammo that only restocks at save points) to slow down all the drones on-screen and slow their rate of fire, but their lasers can still sweep across the arena when they reposition themselves (and their movements are a bit erratic, too), and if you kill a distorted drone, a fresh one will spawn after a few seconds to take its place. Sure, it’s possible to bait them to move near the top of the arena by being in mid-air at the moment they start to reposition themselves, but it’s kinda hard to do that when there are lasers blocking your path (you could dash above the lasers, but then you’d fall on them and take damage anyway).
Long story short: I don’t know how the game expects the player to avoid taking damage at this part, and I’m almost convinced the game forces the player to take damage here. It reminds me of the wrench-throwers in Kero Blaster: since the hazards move faster than you, there isn’t much (if anything) you can do to avoid them. Although, with this game, it’s less that the enemies move fast and more that there are constantly three of them (and when they move, it’s in different directions, and their lasers move with them).
The final boss has phases, so if you damage the weak point enough, a little cut-scene will play out (while you’re still avoiding the drones’ attacks, of course), and although the boss itself still does nothing, any new drones that are spawned (in case the previous ones are killed) have a different attack. However, the craziest part of the entire fight is that the subsequent drones are actually easier to deal with than the initial ones; instead of a constant beam that turns on/off, the second phase’s drones shoot three projectiles (forward, forward-and-slightly-up, and forward-and-slightly-down), so you can dash through one wave of shots to avoid damage. By the time you get to the third and final phase, any newly-spawning drones only shoot a single projectile forward that explodes on contact with a wall, so even with three of them shooting constantly, you can actually avoid their attacks with reasonable consistency if you hit them all with a distortion bomb (it’s still pretty difficult, though).
Lastly, I’d like to mention the game’s performance. There’s at least one secret area in the game where a scan-line effect is added, and in-game level scrolling is tweaked to resemble that trick to make old computer games (like MSX-1 old) appear to have smooth scrolling (where the tiles at the edge of the screen are completely blacked-out until they’re completely on screen). It’s a neat little detail to differentiate the “artificial” zone(s) from the rest of the game. Also, the framerate drops during these parts. There are also a few times where the framerate will drop if you get near a large cluster of tiles that can be affected by the distortion beam (the texture will flash on tiles that can be distorted), but there are also a few areas where the framerate drops for seemingly no reason, so I’m not sure what’s intentional and what’s just a result of code that isn’t optimized properly. Plus, the game would frequently just freeze for a couple seconds before resuming like normal (though the background music would keep playing), and there was even one point where the game crashed on me. First, Squid’s Odyssey, now this; what’s with portable ports of indie games not wanting to work properly?
Overall, this game is okay. Movement speed is just a bit too slow in my opinion, and there are quite a few moments that could use some tweaking, but if you think you can look past that, I’d say 50% off is a decent price.
Back in 2011-2012, I was reading an article that was about games the author wanted to see on the Wii E-Shop (not Wii U, this was before then). I don’t remember too much about the article itself, only that the website background was green and that all of the games were ones I recognized and either already planned on playing or had no interest in. However, when I read the comments, one user mentioned a game I had never heard of, so I looked it up, and that’s how I found out about what might just be MY FAVORITE GAME OF ALL TIME (and if you’ve read some of my posts, you know that isn’t something I say lightly). I’m not even kidding.
Seriously, if you’ve ever wondered why I’m so harsh on the games I post about, it’s because games like this exist.
This is Sutte Hakkun, and it’s a puzzle platformer, but…well, you know how the “action” label for games actually contains multiple fully-fledged genres (platfomer, beat ‘em up, shooters, etc.)? I’ve found out that “puzzle” games are the same way, and before I can adequately describe why I like this game so much, I have to distinguish the puzzle genres from each other:
TL;DR: What separates this game from most other puzzle games is that it manages to have a difficulty curve and really challenging puzzles without ever being obtuse. If you can’t figure out the solution, you know that it’s your fault, not the game’s. You will never be stumped on a puzzle as a result of the game not telling you something because the game tells you what every object in the game does and how exactly every object in the game can be used.
However, what puts this game above other placement-based puzzle games like Toki Tori 1 (which I also recommend) is that Toki Tori 1 introduces new items for each world, but Sutte Hakkun manages to be much less gimmicky. This will take a bit of explaining….
Here’s how the game works: there are 10 worlds with 10 stages each, and you have access to the first 30 at the beginning of the game. Clear 25 stages and you unlock the next 30; clear 50 and you unlock the next 30, and at 75 cleared stages, you unlock the final 10. Clear all stages and you beat the game (and unlock 10 “EXTRA” stages that I haven’t cleared yet). Your character’s size is two units by two units, and you can jump three units high (
plus one pixel EDIT: Nope; three units exactly). The goal of each level is to collect all of the rainbow crystals (though most levels only have one, and no level has more than three IIRC); collect all the rainbow crystals in a stage and you’ve cleared the level. Each level can contain any amount (including none) of the following items: ink jars (each contains 1 of 3 different colors), movable blocks, dogs, rocks, glass panes, color switches, arrow tiles (only allow through-movement in the direction they point) and…one other thing that I’ll bring up later. You can absorb ink, blocks, dogs, and rocks, and place them in front of you anywhere (except rocks and dogs can’t be placed inside solid tiles). However, ink can only be placed inside blocks and dogs; releasing ink anywhere else will just have it fall off the stage, and you have to go back to an ink jar if you want ink again (assuming there’s even one in the stage). There’s also a little trick you can do with blocks where if you hold the release-object button while releasing a block, you can press up to lift the block up by a unit. Colorless blocks and dogs will stay still (though dogs are affected by gravity while blocks aren’t), but if you color them, their behavior changes: red blocks repeatedly move up 4 units and down 4 units; blue blocks repeatedly move forward 4 units and backward 4 units (“forward” depends on the direction you’re facing when you color the block); yellow blocks move diagonally up-and-forward 4 units each and down-and-backward 4 units each; red dogs become springboards, effectively giving you an extra unit of height to your jump (technically two units, but it shrinks by one unit when you stand on it for the springboard effect to be visualized); blue dogs walk back and forth, turning around at cliffs and walls; yellow dogs pound the ground repeatedly and are really only useful when placed over a color switch (which changes the ink color inside the ink jars when jumped on top of or pounded; nothing happens when they’re hit from the side or from below). Be careful, though, because if you press the absorb button next to a colored block or dog, you absorb the color, not the object. Rocks decrease your jump height by one unit while absorbed (while also limiting your horizontal movement in mid-air), and if one is dropped on glass panes from 3 units above or higher (whether by themselves or absorbed by you), they break the glass and fall through. Lastly, you can walk through blocks and ink jars, but not rocks, dogs, or glass.
EDIT: Dang, I almost forgot: if an object affected by gravity is dropped onto another object affected by gravity, it deletes said object and continues to fall.
Oh, there are also spikes and pitfalls, but I think it’s obvious what those do.
Did you read that entire paragraph? Congratulations, you now have the knowledge to solve literally every puzzle in the entire game (with the exception of levels with that other item, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs). Now, all of that may seem complex in text form, but even though there’s an in-game tutorial in the protagonist’s hut, the game is really good about teaching the player all of those mechanics through level design alone, so you can still figure out how to play even if you don’t speak Japanese; the only exception is stage 1-8, which does a terrible job of teaching the player about that “hold up to raise the block by one unit after releasing it” trick. I solved around half of the game’s puzzles before finally looking up a walkthrough. However, about a year ago, a fan-made English translation was released, so not only does that address the problem with 1-8, it also means there hasn’t been a better time to check this game out.
But anyway, onto why this game is better than Toki Tori. As stated before, Toki Tori introduces at least one new item in each of its four worlds, with certain items being exclusive to certain worlds. You may recognize this as an example of the “add new things to keep gameplay fresh” philosophy, but that philosophy is garbage propogated by people who suck at level design, and Sutte Hakkun is proof that those people are full of crap. Blocks and red ink are both introduced in the first level; blue ink is introduced in the fourth; yellow the seventh; color switches the tenth; dogs (all colors) are introduced in 3-2; rocks and glass are introduced in 3-3; heck, even arrow-tiles and that-which-must-not-be-named are introduced
in 4-1 EDIT: before 4-1; I didn’t double-check the levels very well (some of the dogs show up before 3-2 as well IIRC). That’s over half of the game without any new objects being introduced, and the game STILL MANAGES TO CREATE CHALLENGING, NON-OBTUSE PUZZLES! Sure, the beginning of the game is easy, but that’s to get new players used to how the game controls and how everything works, which is what a difficulty curve is supposed to do (EDIT: that and provide decent challenges afterward, which this game also does). Toki Tori 1 had two really challenging levels in its main game, both in the last world (with one being the final level), but Sutte Hakkun’s late-game manages to have consistenly-challenging puzzles (plus or minus a few levels in worlds 8, 9, and 10, and one in world 6, but when one of the game’s only problems is a slightly inconsistent difficulty curve, I can forgive it considering how many other GOTYs don’t have one in the first place). Honestly, the only time besides 1-8 where I felt I had to do something the game didn’t tell me was in 7-3; I’m pretty sure the only way to beat that level is by jumping immediately after breaking a glass pane while you have a rock absorbed. Considering how no other level makes you do something not covered in the in-game tutorial, I wouldn’t be surprised if I just sequence-broke the puzzle, but I’m still counting it as a flaw (but even then, that’s only 1% of all the levels; the rest of the game manages to be challenging without having to resort to less-than-intuitive tactics).
EDIT: I thought about it, then I went back and played it; turns out, you just have a small window of time to let go of the rock, then you have to jump again from the ledge to get the height needed to break the glass. Ignore all of my issues with 7-3.
The game even has a unique compromise for a way to reward skilled players without resorting to a time limit. Rather than have a timer ticking down, (though you do unlock a timer ticking up when you clear all 100 levels) you start with 1000 points for each of the first 30 levels, 2000 points for each of the second 30 levels, and 3000 points for each of the last 40 levels, and each action you perform reduces your point total by a certain amount (walking for a second deducts one point, jumping deducts three, absorbing and releasing deduct five each, and quick-saving deducts 20). That way, you’re not punished for sitting there trying to figure out what to do next, allowing for the game to have what challenging puzzles it has. I never ran out of points, so I don’t know if that triggers a fail-state, but if you ever get stuck in a level, you can always reset the level or load a quick-save from the pause menu.
Speaking of quick-saves, I have to admit that the game isn’t a pure puzzler; movement is pixel-based rather than unit-based (although limitations on movement are unit-based, as mentioned previously), and this knowledge is crucial for solving quite a few puzzles, even though there are no moving hazards. There will be quite a few times where you’ll have to get dangerously close to a pitfall so you can, say, jump up into the vertical shaft above it, but even if those parts give you trouble (especially when combined with the game’s challenging puzzles, which can be a bit lengthy even when you know the solution), you can always use the in-game save-states mentioned previously, so dying will put you right back to your last save-state (though you can only hold one at a time, and it resets if you exit the level).
With all that said, the game has one major flaw that even I can’t reconcile. Imagine you’re playing the game, and you think you’ve solved the puzzle, so you’re putting your solution into motion, when suddenly, you reach what was to be a crucial block or ink jar in your plan…
…you step right next to it, and you see…
Yup, that last of the object types I didn’t mention earlier are doppelgangers. They’re affected by gravity and block your movement just like rocks, but unlike rocks, they can’t be absorbed, merely moving forward two units when you try (unless there’s a wall there, at which point they just stay where they are). Oh, and there’s also the little detail that THEY ONLY EXIST TO BE RED HERRINGS! Sure, there’s a few times where they’re part of a puzzle’s solution, but if they weren’t intentionally designed to screw players over, most of them wouldn’t be surrounded by solid tiles like the red ink jar above, and more importantly, they would be given a unique sprite. Oh, and they can screw with your color radar as well; even if the only blue ink jar is a doppelganger, your color radar still tells you there’s a blue ink jar in the level. The only way you can tell what they are before getting next to them are two additional black hyphens that you won’t even notice if you’re not paying close attention (try to find them in that first screenshot). There are a few levels where other objects are used as red herrings, but at least with them, you can think about it a bit to figure out you won’t need them (“sure, I could hit the color switch to get blue ink, but if I’m in range of the color switch in the first place, I can just get the rainbow crystal and beat the level”). This game was SO CLOSE to being literally perfect, and then those things had to show up. It’s tragic, really.
So, there you have it. At worst, this game only has three flaws (inconsistent difficulty curve, one unintuitive level if you count the language barrier, and the doppelgangers). ONLY three flaws, and they aren’t even that big of a deal (besides the language barrier, maybe). Sometimes, a game will have so many flaws that I’ll forget to mention some in favor of the more egregious ones, but for this game, I’ve mentioned all of its worst qualities, so you should be able to figure out if it’s worth getting for yourself or not.
Overall, if you consider yourself a fan of puzzle games, I highly recommend this game. I would even go as far as to say you owe it to yourself to play this game, but I don’t know you. Seriously, aside from the three issues mentioned previously, it does everything right. Also, if you play it and you don’t like it, I would honestly like to know why; that statement isn’t rhetorical or anything.
Game of the Year 1997
Welp, a couple days ago, my desktop suddenly stopped booting to Windows, crashing with a 0xc000021a error, and so far, all of my attempts to fix the issue without doing a clean reinstall (and wiping all my personal files in the process) hasn’t worked. In other words, that’s most of my backlog barred from me for the time being. Luckily, I’ve been able to figure out how to copy files to a USB using the command prompt, so I can back-up at least some of my files to my laptop before trying that. Plus, I can still play non-PC games:
This is a puzzle game. Each stage has various blocks with one of four symbols on them, and the goal is to push all the blocks with the same symbol on top of each other, effectively ridding them from the stage one by one (blocks with different symbols will block each other). Once there’s only one block left for its specific symbol, the symbol transforms into a swirl, and once you push all the swirl-symbol blocks on top of each other, you’ve cleared the stage and you get your password.
Movement is unit-based, with your character and each block being one unit large, and you can’t do anything to the blocks besides push them. This means that it’s impossible to make a mistake by pushing two blocks together; the only way you can mess up a puzzle is by pushing a block against a wall, since that means you won’t be able to push it away from the wall.
On top of being simple and easy to learn, most of the game is really easy. The second level is a difficulty spike, but aside from that, the game doesn’t get tricky until the last 10 stages or so, and there are only 30 stages, each being one screen large. So, how does the game make up for its short length and low difficulty? By being annoying: you have three lives, and each level has a time limit of 200 seconds. If you run out of time, the timer resets and you lose a life; run out of lives and it’s The End, now you have to re-enter your password. You also lose a life if you pause the game and re-start the puzzle. There’s an undo button, but it only works for one move; after that, you’re on your own. To be fair, the undo button only lasting one move isn’t too bad since, as mentioned earlier, you can only mess up by pushing a block against a wall, and I do appreciate how running out of time doesn’t completely restart the puzzle like in Toki Tori 1 for GBC; however, it still doesn’t change the fact that time limits and life-systems are completely antithetical to the puzzle genre, merely being leftovers from the action game mentality. Rather than the challenge being focused exclusively on the player’s puzzle solving skill, the player has to solve the level quickly, meaning there’s not much time to stop and think about what to do; instead, the game pressures the player into making hasty decisions lest time runs out and the password must be re-entered.
Admittedly, the only punishment for losing all your lives is that your score resets to zero (and the game doesn’t keep up with your score at the end anyway), but it’s still annoying having to enter passwords over and over in the same sitting, sometimes for the same level.
Ah, but the game has more than just block puzzles: every 5 levels (up to level 20), you’re sent into a little minigame. Each minigame has a different set of rules: the first one is some weird thing involving dice and a 3x3 grid of numbers; the second one is a number guessing game (if your chosen number is too big, the game displays the word “BIG”, and if it’s too small, it displays “TNAMM”); the third is another numer-guessing game, but the only thing I could figure out about it is that each of the four digits had to be different from each other (incorrect guesses displayed strings like “0A2B”); the last one is a card-matching game, but the board is relatively large, and three incorrect guesses results in faliure, so it’s less a memory game and more a luck-based one. Luckily, you don’t have to be successful in any of these mini-games to progress; they only add to your useless score.
Overall, this game is okay. The minigames are confusing and seemingly arbitrary, and the life system is annoying, but the actual puzzle-solving elements of the main game are okay, if easy. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, I’d recommend this game if you can find it for cheap, or in a multicart (for cheap; not all bootlegs are this high-quality).
My brother came to visit this weekend, so I got to play one of the games he got on Switch.
This is a platformer. Aside from your standard left/right movement and jump ability, you can dash in your standard 8 cardinal directions (even in mid-air, but you have to land before you can dash a second time) and you can grab and climb on walls. Grabbing and climbing will reduce your stamina, but you don’t get to see how much stamina you have left (which is especially annoying since it seems like it goes down faster at some points than at others); you can only make an educated guess based on how much your character sweats (and when your character starts flashing, you have about half a second left before you fall). You can wall-jump without using stamina, though; just remember not to hold the “grab wall” button as you approach your target. Also, note that you can climb/fall through single-unit-wide spaces even though your character sprite is clearly wider than that.
I should start off by saying that this game gets a lot of things right. Controls are responsive, hazards are clearly distinguished, and the game will even save which checkpoint in the level you’re at when you quit so you don’t have to beat a level in one sitting. Left/right movement might have a bit of momentum to it, but it isn’t so much that you’ll have to fight the controls. The game even has a lot of little details, like each level having its own death transition or a dialogue option changing if you select enough optional dialogue choices. However, I do have some issues with the game, and just like with practically every other universally-acclaimed masterpiece, it’s my two old nemeses: level design and the difficulty curve. To start, although your death count will more-or-less rise with each consecutive level, it’s not because the levels are getting harder; it’s because they’re getting longer. The game does start off pretty challenging, but rather than the game giving you trickier platforming challenges as you progress, it places checkpoints further apart and bloats levels by using segments that might as well be recycled versions of previous parts (if they aren’t actually copies of earlier segments).This is especially noticeable in the final part of the final level, where checkpoints go back to being fairly close together; it will feel like the game suddenly got easier, but in reality, it never got harder to begin with. Plus, the final level recycles gimmicks from earlier in the game without actually combining them or otherwise doing anything different with them, so it’s less “testing what you know” and more “regurgitating what you’ve already done.” Despite that, the boss fight is probably the worst part of the game since it just keeps dragging on and on, barely having any difference in each consecutive arena, and each time you think it’s over, the boss breaks open a wall or the floor, revealing yet another, highly similar segment (the only real variation aside from the ~2 vertical segments is when the momentum from hitting the boss knocks you over some spikes, and you have to react relatively quickly to get back on land). I think it would have been better if the current boss fight’s segments were scrapped and instead the boss was in the final level; that way, rather than there being two lengthy segments of stagnation, the game properly builds on its gimmicks by having you deal with the boss’s projectiles while simultaneously using the gimmicks to platform across, resulting in a satisfying, climactic final level. I think the game could have done that and still told its story.
Side note: I remember seeing someone on this site mention the “game-play loop” of a game. At first, I thought it was just some wording I wasn’t familiar with, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much it applies to modern games. It seems like modern games are more concerned with getting the player hooked on game-play loops instead of providing a satisfying difficulty curve. It would explain why there are so many games with procedural generation and why even non-procedurally-generated games like this one don’t really have difficulty curves. As much as I like how far video games have come, the trend of game-play loops is one I can live without since it results in a difficulty ouroboros.
It isn’t until the “B Side” levels where the game actually decides to ramp up the challenge, but as much as I genuinely enjoy the B Side levels, the only way to unlock them is by finding a hidden collectible in their A Side counterparts. In other words, if you miss the item and want to unlock the B Side, you’ll have to play through the A Side again, paying careful attention to the walls to see if there’s a discrepancy in the tile-set or something. What’s worse is that some levels have split paths, so you might just end up going down the wrong path and bypassing the possibility of getting the item in the first place. Of course, even if those issues were addressed, there’s still the fact that it’s stitching mechanics from the hidden object genre onto a platformer, and I don’t know how much crossover appeal those genres have (I know that I’m not a fan of hidden object games). I would prefer if beating the game unlocked the first level’s B Side, then beating the first level’s B Side unlocks the second level’s B side and so on, with the strawberries being the only miss-able collectibles in the game.
I also have an issue with how the game handles its gimmicks. If you’re familiar with basic level design philosophy, you probably know how to introduce new mechanics: put it by itself in a safe environment so the player can get used to it, then build on the concept afterward (add hazards to avoid, etc.). This game doesn’t do that. The most telling example I can think of is when the game introduces the green bubbles: the first one is directly over a death pit, so if you don’t already know how to use them (which you probably won’t since it’s the first one), you’ll be launched off to the side (as opposed to upward, which is where you have to go) and you’ll fall into the pit and die. Another example are the bouncy orbs in stage six. Sure, it doesn’t take long to figure out that hitting them in certain spots bounces you in a different trajectory, but even the most-still ones will move back and forth by a couple pixels, making it unnecessarily difficult to be precise with them.
However, I think the worst of the game’s bad tutorials is this one:
Sure, it’s more forgiving than the green bubble example since, if you mess up, you can reasonably avoid the spikes on your way back down. However, you see that seven in the upper-right hand side of the screen, below the flag icon? That’s how many checkpoints are left until the end of the game. You see, rather than the game regularly using the gimmicks it introduces, they’re level-specific, even to the point where the final level has its own new mechanic. Combine this with the game’s lack of a difficulty curve and the game feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a series of random stand-alone stages made by different people with a level editor. Maybe the game could have experimented with building on the gimmicks in the B Side stages, but that screenshot is from the B Side of the final level, showcasing another mechanic added on top of the one introduced in the final level’s A Side. It turns out that the B Side stages don’t combine gimmicks from different levels, either, and a couple even add new mechanics to make new challenges. For one example, the second level has blocks you can dash through, but the B Side tells you that you can get an extra jump by hitting the jump button right before you exit the block (and of course, there’s the above screenshot which introduces a concept right before the end, neither building on it much nor letting you get the hang of it properly). Maybe the game builds on them better in the C Side levels or in the optional Core stage, but I’ve seen enough of this game to know that I won’t have fun looking for its secrets (my brother told me that the Core even has some arbitrary nonsense in it, like colors on a TV corresponding to a direction you have to dash).
Ironically, the one part of the game that does introduce a gimmick in a safe environment ends up being safe for a bit too long and gets kinda boring, but it’s still better designed than the other gimmick introductions in this game.
Oh, and I also didn’t like the feather mini-game. There are two moments where this hardcore action game stops dead in its tracks to make you keep a feather within a constantly-moving area, and it might just be the most flow-breaking segment I’ve ever seen in a video game. Out of nowhere, it goes from a fast-paced, responsive platformer to a slow, heavily-momentum-based proto-clicker. Honestly, that genre is even more far-removed from the platforming than the hidden object genre, and I honestly believe that the game could have told its story just as well without it. In fact, it kinda ruins the story IMO; how the hell is that supposed to be relaxing?? It’s frustrating because the momentum keeps the feather moving past the zone after I let go of the button! At least the feather dies, so I can revel in that bit of poetic justice.
So, would I recommend this game? Well, unless you’re a fan of platformers, hidden object games, game-play loops, and momentum-based feather-moving mini-games, I say get it on sale. I like the platforming segments (especially in the B Side levels), but it has a “throw everything until something sticks” approach to level design instead of trying to have a more focused, cohesive challenge with an actual, satisfying difficulty curve. If you want the challenge to do anything but flat-line, you’ll have to deal with the shift in genre and look for those hidden collectibles (or keep a walk-through handy).
P.S. Oddly enough, the “PICO-8” version of the game has a better difficulty curve, but this is only really accomplished by having some screens start you off on crumbling platforms, giving you little time to get your bearings.
Fun fact: I didn’t get this game either time it was given away for free. I figured I could just go back to the Playstation version, which I still have an unfinished save for somewhere around the third area (I had to stop playing since it was around the time college went from “yeah, we’ll totally help prepare you for getting a job” to “here’s a ton of busywork because fuck you and your free time”). However, that changed when I came across this SteamGifts giveaway which had an optional quiz in the description with this game as the prize. Since I didn’t mind losing, I left a joke post, but the joke was on me because I was the only one who entered. But hey, what better way to finally get around to playing this game again than by having it in my Steam backlog?
This is a stealth-based cinematic platformer. Areas are displayed on a screen-by-screen basis (with a transition happening when you move past the edge), and your horizontal movement is unit-based. Your vertical movement is limited to grabbing onto a platform above you or falling/climbing down the edge of a platform (although not all platforms let you climb down their edges, something that isn’t always clear). Something annoying about the PC version is that, if you’re using an Xbox 360 controller, movement is mapped to the stick, not the pad, which makes this unit-based movement more difficult than necessary (and you can only rebind keyboard controls, not gamepad controls). The only jump button the game has will launch you forward three units (four if you’re in mid-run) rather than launch you up. Since the game is unit based, the game registers you as being on the next unit the moment you push left or right, so if you’re on the edge of a platform and you move forward, you won’t be able to jump because you’re technically in mid-air even though the game is showing your character walking forward; that’s something that took me a bit to get used to since it means you have to push the jump button slightly before your character is centered with the last unit of the platform if you need to make a running jump over a pit. The only problem with this is that there are a few instances where the visual “edge” of a platform is half-way through a unit, and the only way to know if that edge is registered as platform or pit is to walk on it and maybe get killed in the process (and yes, some are platforms while others are pits). What’s especially annoying is when it’s a hazard that only barely registers as being part of the unit (like the swinging spiked balls that go in and out of the foreground); you think you’d be safe, but that extra pixel of with connects with you even though a similar connection from similar hazards leaves you just fine.
Another issue I had is how the game handles rescuing slaves. The first part of the game has a decent tutorial, but the sign that tells you how to use switches is right next to a switch that opens a trap door, a trap door that a slave just so happens to be standing on. It isn’t until a few screens later that a sign tells you that you’re supposed to be freeing the slaves (as well as telling you how to get them to move) rather than killing them, so despite the tutorials, this game isn’t very friendly to first-time players. In fact, it isn’t until the third area that you learn how to possess enemies, which is something you need to do if you want to free all the slaves in the first area. Now, if the game were designed like a Metroidvania where you could go back and free any slave at any time (as long as said slave is alive), I wouldn’t mind that so much, but right before you make it to the end of the first area, you see a sign that lets you know that all the slaves in that area will be executed when you escape. In other words, unless you look up a walkthrough or do a bunch of trial-and-error, there’s no way you’ll be able to free all the slaves on your first playthrough. That isn’t replayability; that’s repetition. What’s worse is that there are quite a few screens where slaves get killed if you don’t react fast enough (sometimes getting killed within a second of the screen being displayed), so the only way to get the good ending (much less free all the slaves) is through trial-and-error and repeated playthroughs (or by following a walkthrough).
But that’s not even my biggest issue with how the game handles rescuing slaves. You see, since possessing enemies was one of the few things I remembered from my initial playthrough, I decided to try to rescue all the slaves on this run, but when I made it to the end of the area, I had only rescued around 10-15 of the 28 slaves in the area. After retracing my steps and jumping into all the bottomless pits, unable to find any more slaves, I decided to look up a walkthrough to see what I was missing, and it turns out the game has secret areas. However, these aren’t your ordinary, intuitive secrets; rather, the game temporarily breaks its own rules just to hide slaves from completionists. You remember how pushing down on the edge of a platform will have you climb down and hang on the edge? Well, there are exactly three instances in the game where you push down to hang from the middle of the platform, and all instances are in the first area of the game, obscured by foreground objects. The closest thing you have to an in-game hint for these secrets are slight differences in the background audio. There’s no tutorial anywhere that hints about this; there’s no instance where you can do this without being obscured by foreground; the game gives no indication that this action is ever possible at all, yet it somehow expects players to figure it out just because an extra layer of ambiance was added to the music for that screen (and that’s to say nothing of the secrets where a wall graphic is displayed, but the game actually lets you duck-roll past it without even an audio change to indicate its presence). Who finds this fun, and how? That’s even worse than the two instances of slaves being completely blacked out because they’re placed in pitch-black shadows (which, once again, only happens in the first part of the game); at least then the extra audio actually works as a hint since it’s the sounds slaves make, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to combine this with the knowledge that your character also becomes pitch-black when in shadows to figure out the same thing could happen with slaves.
However, the most annoying part of the secrets is that almost all of them are in the first two sections of the game, before you even learn how to possess enemies (only 4 out of 16 are past that point, and said point is less than half-way through the game!).
With that said, if you ignore the slave-rescuing part of this game where the ending is determined by how many slaves you rescue, the game isn’t too bad at first. The tutorial gives you a good idea of the game’s basics and enemies are introduced in ways that let you learn how to react to them (but it wouldn’t be Oddworld if it didn’t introduce one enemy by having it kill a slave before you realize what’s going on). However, the third area is where the game’s nonsense starts to seep into the main path. First of all, the game introduces this annoying obstacle where you have to memorize and repeat whistles in order to progress (this is the only way the whistling mechanic is used, by the way). Sometimes, you just have to repeat it right after hearing it; other times, you have to find the “password” first; however, each time, you’re literally just regurgitating the pattern; nothing more is done with the mechanic (and I’m convinced there’s one spot where you have to kill yourself after getting the password so you can respawn earlier and actually progress). What’s even more annoying is that you can’t just input the password when you want; you have to wait for the NPC to finish whistling or else it won’t register correctly. If I wanted to play Simon, I’d play Simon.
Second, the paramites (which only ever show up in the Paramonian Temple) and their levels aren’t designed around the game’s screen-based game-play. You’re told that they’re peaceful unless cornered, and if you approach a cornered one, you’ll see and hear it hiss at you. However, if said corner is just off-screen, you’ll hear nothing until you transition to the next screen and see yourself get killed. What’s worse is that, at the end of the temple, there’s a relatively lengthy segment where you have to run away from them. You can actually jump to the background to scout the area, but the tactic is rendered kinda pointless since half of the paramites will drop down from above without warning, almost certainly before you can react to them (the scouting only really helps prevent you from missing jumps or tunnels that appear a couple units in front of you after a screen transition). This is on top of one segment of the run near the beginning that has a trap door that activates itself, and it only activates during the run, not during your scouting. This is the only instance of this happening in the entire game; there’s one other place where trap doors activate by themselves, but they deactivate at regular intervals as well, unlike this one that only activates during the run and stays active. Plus, this running segment (and a similar one at the end of the other temple, and maybe one secret area) are the only instances where you have to push the dedicated roll button while running to roll into small passages (not down, but the other duck button), and this is something the game doesn’t have a tutorial for. Honestly, despite all of the game’s other problems, those running segments are the worst part of the game.
EDIT: Aah! I almost forgot another annoying element the game has: it tries to combine its stealth bits with action bits, but this ultimately results in action bits that make you wait a while (through the stealth bits) if you want to try them again after failing. If you think about it, checkpoints in this game are only a few screens apart, and you’re not really doing that much between checkpoints, but it can still take a while due to you having to wait for asynchronous patterns to line up in order to be able to sneak past, etc., and you have to redo all that waiting if you fail the action bits.
Third, the game temporarily breaks its rules for how checkpoints work. Every other segment of the game lets you backtrack to a previous checkpoint to save how many slaves you’ve rescued, but if you do that in the temples, your progress gets erased before you make it to another checkpoint; you have to clear the main segment and the secret segment in one go if you want the game to save your progress on that front (I only found out about this by double-checking a secret after solving it only to see the slaves back where they were). No other part of the game makes you do this.
Once you finish both temples, you figure out why the game was so keen on killing the slaves in the first area: the game reuses said areas to make you rescue more slaves! Well, at least hazard placement is a bit different. However, if you haven’t been going through the secret areas, this is the first time the game spawns a guard dog behind foreground, meaning you won’t be able to react to them until they start charging at you (yet another example of the game forcing trial-and-error rather than any kind of intuitive level design). What’s really annoying are the times where the game will spawn, like, 20 dogs in a row, and the only way to get past the part is to possess an enemy beforehand and just stand there gunning them all down, which is really repetitive (especially since if you just hold the button down, you’ll slide back by a unit, so you have to tap the button in order to stay still). It can take a solid minute of just standing there shooting before the game finally decides enough is enough and lets you progress. Also, it wouldn’t be Oddworld if it didn’t require another unexplained and heretofore unnecessary mechanic right here at the end of the game: if you hold a grenade for a moment before throwing it, it will explode sooner than if you throw it right away, and you have to do this to destroy at least one mid-air robot.
Oh, and the game breaks yet another consistent mechanic by having exactly one switch do two things instead of just one thing like all the other switches, so I ended up missing some slaves on my playthrough anyway.
Lastly, I’ll mention the bugs I encountered: 1) After freeing all the slaves in the first area and making it to the second area, freeing a slave resulted in “casualties” being lowered rather than “employees,” resulting in negative 3 casualties. 2) When you’re about to possess an enemy, they’ll freak out and run back and forth, but if they run off-screen before you can possess them, your possession has to start over. However, if your possession activates right at the moment an enemy runs off screen, the game crashes. 3) Throughout the game, there are giant 2x2 mines that can chase you; at one point, I pushed the jump button right as one collided with me, and again, the game crashed. 4) Sometimes, when you select “exit” from the pause menu (an option that normally just sends you to the title screen), the game can crash as well.
Overall, this isn’t a game I would recommend. It’s a stealth game that wants to be an action/puzzler, but the only action segments are “run from the hazard chasing you” (which are fairly repetitive outside of the final temple segments) or “react inhumanly fast”, and the only “puzzle” segments involve either the game withholding info on how its mechanics work or by breaking the rules on how its mechanics work. I don’t think I’ll be playing Abe’s Exodus any time soon.