My backlog extends beyond Steam... devonrv’s profile

In other words, you’ll occasionally see me post about…maybe not obscure, but perhaps unexpected games. I’ve already brought up such titles as Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean as well as Fluidity, and you can expect more in the future.

As for my BLAEO wheel: whenever I buy a game on Steam, I always play it a little bit right then so that nobody can say that I bought a bunch of Steam games I’ve never played. That said, I’m going to keep a game labeled as “never played” until I reach it in my backlog and plan on playing it actively.

Also, since there are some games I never plan on 100%ing, I’ll probably just use “beaten” for all the games that I’ve beaten, even if I’ve technically “completed” them as well. I’ll use “unfinished” for when I plan on going back to play all of a game’s content, even if I’ve technically beaten it already.

Lastly, here’s my review of my favorite game, as well as an explanation of differences between all of puzzle’s sub-genres (something not many people seem to know): https://www.backlog-assassins.net/posts/db8kgjb Now edited to include a link to my review of its GB version and its postgame!


The game describes itself as an action-adventure, but the whole “action” part is very…underdeveloped, and I’m not just saying that because you don’t have combos and stuff like in hack ‘n’ slash games. Each of the game’s four levels only has one enemy type throughout (except the last which just reuses the previous 3 enemies, and not even at the same time), and there’s no level design to make the fights any different from each other. Instead, the game is more focused on its switch-hunts, some of which are so basic they’re basically just padding (instead of “go across the bridge,” it’s “go two steps past the bridge to push a button so you can access the bridge, and then go across”). There are a few brief moments where the game starts to have actual puzzle mechanics, but they all fall victim to the “abandon gimmick before it’s fully explored” trend, some not even making past tutorial difficulty before never being seen again. Worse still is that the game is slow; slow movement can work if the levels are compact, but the game likes to have long paths with either nothing or a single switch-hunt item. This even affects the action parts, since the level 3 enemy type can jump pretty far and pretty fast, while you can only shamble after them (and if they happen to jump at you, that’s damage you won’t be able to avoid or react to).

You’d think bosses would be more on the action side, but the first boss is just more switch-hunts, only now you have to bait the boss to attack certain things to progress. The second boss has more direct attacks (having flasks fall on different points of the arena, even foreshadowed by, well, drop-shadows), but you also don’t fight this boss directly; you just wait until it starts stomping, then you bait it into stomping the gears. The final boss has more projectile-focused attacks, and while I do think it’s the best boss in the game, it’s still pretty basic and another “wait until it’s vulnerable to attack” boss (and once you notice that, you’re not gonna get hit).

Speaking of the final boss, it’d honestly be quicker for me to point out what few moments I liked. The third level’s enemy is a spider that’ll shoot you, and while most of the time you just fight them head-on in flat, empty arenas, there are a couple parts of the game where they’re on separate platforms and you just have to avoid their shots, meaning the game does have some level design here and there. Unfortunately, since they always target you, you can literally just keep moving forward to avoid their shots, resulting in little variety from all the other empty halls in the game. Similarly, the clock-hands in level 3 and the shooting flowers in level 2 are notable as being “when an action-adventure almost had level design,” but the flowers are just used for a quickly-abandoned mirror-reflecting gimmick, and the clock hands are never used with anything else, so you’re just waiting on the slow hand to get around so you can move through without getting hit.

Not recommended.

P.S. There are some optional collectibles in the game, and while I admit I didn’t get all of them, I blame that more on the game not making it clear that they’re there than them being hard to get (many are on what appear to be ordinary split paths, and going the wrong way just has you go forward with the campaign). I was easily able to get all the ones I noticed.

  • Project Mercury

    65 minutes playtime

    3 of 3 achievements

Platformer. Left/right move, A jumps, X shoots, down ducks. You can shoot in the cardinal directions, but since left/right also move, you need to hold the “aim” button to stay still. There’s also the “wpn” button which switches your weapons, but only two of the four stage-select levels give you a new weapon when you beat them. Also of note is that not only is your jump arc a trapezoid, but you fall faster than you rise. Lastly, your character has the ability to climb walls, but unlike Little Samson, you can’t just grab onto any wall (not that the game makes this clear or anything); only the walls that have gradients next to them are climbable. If a wall is just a thin line, you can’t grab it.

The game has you play one level before taking you to the stage select, and it’s bland. The only reason I took damage is because the speeder-bike part in the second half doesn’t give you a clear hitbox, and when you have to jump over a wide boss moving across the ground, intuitive hitboxes are kinda necessary.

In fact, the level design throughout the whole game is quite bland (every platforming section is either flat planes or a row of single tile platforms above a pit), and at first, I thought the dev was being extra careful to introduce enemies in ways that wouldn’t result in cheap hits, but then the miniboss of the green level comes at you and shoots a fast horizontal laser quickly while ALSO introducing flying enemies that’ll beeline to your last known position, so maybe the dev just really sucks at level design. For the record, this level is second from the left in the stage select, and the miniboss doesn’t show up in the far-left level, so if you go from left-to-right like I did, this is your introduction both to the miniboss and the homing enemies. Ironically, all the other times the miniboss shows up (including later in this same level!) put it on a platform below you, allowing you to shoot down at it and kill it from safety. THAT should’ve been how the enemy was introduced, but the game got it backwards. The boss of the green level is a spiderbot that walks left/right and abruptly jumps high and shoots lasers down, but once you learn its pattern, you can avoid damage by just waiting on the edge of the screen and only jumping when it comes near.

The far-left level is another speeder-bike level and isn’t really noteworthy beyond the hitbox issue mentioned earlier (the boss is a giant flying bug with little bugs around it like a shield, and like the first boss, I could never jump over it without taking damage). It does introduce an enemy that flies overhead and drops a hazard on you that can only be avoided if you’re moving left cuz it falls so fast, so the game has some trial and error as well. The center-right level (the yellow one) introduces a scorpion that shoots fast horizontal lasers, but it’s introduced on a platform above you, so the game actually got it right this time. The boss is a snake thing that’ll fly above and shoot fast lasers down, but even though it’s random where it’ll shoot, I got lucky and was never hit (also, you can shoot enemy lasers to cancel them out like in Mobile Astro, so that helped). After it’s done flying, it’ll come out of the holes in the ground and shoot lasers down at your platform, but even if you can’t jump away to another platform, you can still jump over the lasers, so it’s not a bad boss.

The far-right level was when things started to go south. The platforming parts weren’t anything different, but this level also has auto-scrolling parts where you’re wall-climbing (until now, that mechanic was only used to get over slightly-higher-than-you-can-jump platforms). Thing is, even though you’ll slowly move down while staying still, your up and down movements weren’t adjusted to account for the scrolling (like a conveyor belt that shuts off while you hold a direction), making it unnecessarily more difficult to avoid enemies since you have no true “staying still” state; you’re either moving up, moving down, or slowly moving down. The stage boss stops the scrolling, but it has a fast 3-way shot, and since you’re on a wall for the fight, you can’t jump. This was the first time it felt like the game wasn’t designed around its controls, that forced damage was intentional, and it didn’t get any better later.

The first level after the stage-select levels are beaten is another speeder-bike level, and it’s only notable for two reasons: 1) the hazard-dropping enemies that can only be avoided if you’re moving left are combined with enemies that spawn from the left without warning, and 2) it reuses the first boss, except now when you kill it, it splits into two smaller versions of itself, and those split into two smaller versions of themselves, so on top of your unintuitive speeder-bike hitbox, the arena can get a bit crowded with enemies flying around in random directions.

The next level is a downward-scrolling level where you can move anywhere on screen, but it’s also this late in the game where the dev decides to introduce an enemy that uses the exact same sprite as the flying enemies that just go straight, except these enemies will instantly bank 90 degrees and come straight for you when you get beside them, so not only is there some more trial and error for you, but due to your tall hitbox, it’s really difficult to avoid them even when you know they’re coming (especially since they spawn from both the top and bottom of the screen in different locations with no warning). Plus, unlike you, the flying enemies are small enough to slip between your 3-way lasers. The boss is the large bug with bug shields again, though it does have a new attack where it just shoots its bugs away from itself for a while. After shooting it a bunch, it went to the right side of the screen and started going up and down; I think it was supposed to do something when I got in front of it, but since I already happened to be on the far right side of the screen, I was able to stay behind it without taking any damage.

After this is a level with more bland platforming, though I’ll give it credit for this one part where a scorpion was on a platform below some stationary floating hazards, and the platform before it was on-level with a pit between them, so you had to fight the scorpion head-on and remember its cue for when it’s gonna shoot its laser. Yup, there’s actually some level design here, finally. The boss’s weak point bounces around the screen slowly, but it has one of those ball-necks that’s always attached to the center, so you won’t know if the neck itself is a hazard. The boss can also summon enemies from the sides of the screen, and it shoots more of those really fast lasers you won’t be able to dodge.

The final boss is its own level and is composed of two enemies: a floating soldier that just floats in random directions and shoots you not only with fast lasers, but sometimes with fast 3-way lasers as well; and the weak point, which just fades in and out of existence every several seconds and shoots 5 shots in the cardinal directions, so there’s no way to hit it without being in its line of fire yourself (I tried shooting them down like before, but it didn’t work this time; maybe the lasers just barely missed each other). The boss’s second phase happens very abruptly after its first, and while it’s way easier than the first phase (it just moves across the ground and jumps occasionally), its jump isn’t foreshadowed, and since you’ll need to jump over it when it doesn’t jump, that could also get you hit. The ending implies postgame content (or at least a sequel), but I didn’t see any evidence of either.

Not recommended, not even if it goes free again.

  • Mobile Astro

    48 minutes playtime

    0 of 4 achievements

Twinstick SHMUP. D-pad moves, face buttons shoot in their direction. Even if you use the left stick and right stick instead, you can still only move/shoot in 8 directions. It starts off slow, only three enemy types, but it also eases you into what sets the game apart from other SHMUPs: you can shoot enemy shots, though they cancel out yours. Still, even by the first level, you’ll start to notice cheap stuff since enemy shots can slip directly between your twin-shots and hit you, and the enemies that spawn from the bottom still spawn without warning. Level 2 introduces a giant damage-sponge enemy while also introducing parts where you have to kill a specific enemy to progress the stage. When encountering the damage-sponge enemy in all other scenarios, there’s absolutely no way you’ll be able to kill it before it walks away, even if you focus fire on it. This level also ends in a boss, who goes offscreen and comes in from random sides of the screen while flinging bullets everywhere. I first died here, and when I respawned, it was under the boss without any fanfare so it took me a bit to even realize it happened (getting your ship hit also doesn’t draw attention to itself). By level 3, you’ll notice that the enemies you’ve been fighting are starting to move faster, but that’s not the only thing that’ll increase the difficulty since enemies also start spawning from the left and right (even though the screen is very tall and narrow). The game also starts spawning more enemies that take several hits to kill, and spawning more of them at once, but since you shooting their shots cancels both bullets, it’ll take much longer than you’d think to take them out, even after you figure out you can hit the L button to use a bomb (doesn’t screen-clear, just damages, and you only have 2 max). Level 4 goes a bit further and has many parts where a bunch of several-hits-to-kill squids spawn from both left and right. The boss, a giant squid, has little squids surrounding it like a shield, and when you kill all of them, the giant squid shoots large, superfast lasers at you that you can only dodge if you were already moving (and even then, it’s a toss up). Yup, can’t shoot these lasers down; way to ruin your whole gimmick, game. Level 5 might be the introduction of the little walking ships that shoot several shots directly at you (rather than straight ahead of them), but even if they were introduced earlier, this is definitely the level where two of them spawn from opposite ends of the screen and shoot you at the same time, making me convinced the game has unavoidable damage. The level 6 boss is a spiderbot that not only shoots the unshootable large lasers while it moves (the squid would stop for a split second at least), but also hops directly onto you a few times before going back to its normal pattern, and of course it moves faster than you. Ironically, the level 8 boss tones things down by just having it spin saws around itself and slide around the arena. Sure, its landmines shoot projectiles even faster than the large lasers, but I never got hit. Level 9 was where I first got game over (you can only see your lives left if you look in the upper-left corner when you respawn from death), and that’s where I learned you have to start the whole level over if that happens. After two game overs on level 10, which is even more spammy than earlier levels, I gave up.

Not recommended. Games like this make me wonder if I actually even like SHMUPs and I’ve just been extremely unlucky, or if it’s all Gradius III/Guerilla War nostalgia.

The more games I play, the more I realize I’m not a fan of Zelda-style dungeons, but this game is just bad.

This is a platformer/adventure game with RPG elements and Cave Story momentum. Left/right move, A does a full jump (no short hops), X shoots an arrow that starts to descend after a couple units, Y uses whatever item/spell you have equipped, B of all buttons brings up the pause menu (where you equip items and assign XP), and select brings up the options menu (which is how you toggle fullscreen since the game always starts windowed). Start is unused.

The RPG mechanics are slightly unique since increasing STR doesn’t have you deal more damage; it instead increases the distance your arrows go before they fall, so you’d want to increase AGI so the game won’t make you wait so long before you can fire another arrow, and then you’d want to increase ACC so you have higher critical-hit chances. Also, there’s an arrow you can buy in the second town, but as far as I could tell, it doesn’t actually increase your damage, either (all enemies still took the same amount of hits to kill).

The game starts you off on the path to the first dungeon, and if you look past the bland level design, it’s okay at first. Thing is, if you know Zelda dungeons, you’ll know they not only have an item in each, but also require you to use that item to progress. In the case of this game’s first dungeon, the item is a shield, and you need it to block projectiles in a certain hallway (and then never again). Problem is, this hall is one way in a split path, and the shield is the other way, so if you go the wrong way first, it looks like you should be able to make it through that hall, but you’ll take damage at the end. This dungeon also has shielded enemies that you can’t damage, but are required to kill in order to progress. How do you defeat them? Simple: you just stand there and WAIT for a few seconds until they decide to lower their shield, and then they become vulnerable (but only for around 1-2 seconds because then they’ll attack and put their shield back up). In the second dungeon, there’s a couple halls that have lava rise and fall, so when it rises you have to wait a couple seconds for it to fall, which wouldn’t be much of an issue if the game didn’t put the boss key before it and the boss door after it, so if you go the wrong way by accident (again), you have to backtrack and wait some more. This game could really benefit from being able to fast-travel between save points.

The game tries to teach the player things without using dialogue (when you get an item, it just does a fanfare and puts it in your inventory), but it doesn’t always work. For example, when you beat the first dungeon, you get the tornado power, and the last room has foliage tiles, so you use the tornado on the foliage and you zip right through them, instantly putting you on the other side and destroying the tiles in the process. Later on, you’ll go through a mini-dungeon and get the bomb bag, which lets you lay bombs to destroy a certain circular rock tile that you’ve seen blocking other paths. After this, you hit a dead end. There’s an area on the right of the map that has an updraft, but jumping into it just has you fall down into the spikes. Turns out, using the tornado power on the updraft is what lifts you up. A similar issue happens when you beat the second dungeon: you get the fire shot and encounter an unlit lantern so you know you can use the fire to light the lanterns, but those crates you’ve been using your arrows to destroy one-by-one can also be destroyed with the fire, and it also destroys all adjacent crates as well, and wouldn’t you know it, this little mechanic is also required to progress. Of course, it’d be too easy if it showed up in a dead end like the last one; instead, the first crates you’d need to destroy with this method are blended into the ceiling of an area two rooms away from the dead end and three rooms away from the entrance! You’d think it was a come-from the way it was designed. Yes, I had to look up a walkthrough for both of those.

When you beat the second dungeon, you’d think you could go to the north part of the map and start heading for the third dudgeon, but if you try that, you’ll be met with dead ends, but not after you have to go through a couple screens of enemies and hazards (why can’t the roadblocks just be put up front?). Instead, you have to go to the southwest to a rainy forest where lightning will make the entire screen (except projectiles) go white for an entire half-second, then having a single frame of visibility before flashing some more and going back to normal. After a while, you’ll reach a dead end and be told you need to collect 4 turtle shells, but the turtles are invulnerable to your arrows, so how do you kill them? Another trip to the walkthrough shows you need to use bombs. Thing is, unlike the Zelda games (where some enemies also require bombs to defeat), this game never has bombs drop from enemies/crates as a collectible. They can drop from crates, but you can’t collect them; they’ll explode after a couple seconds and hurt you if you’re near them. They can drop from turtles, but again, you already need bombs to kill them in the first place, so it’s a moot point. The ONLY way you can refill bombs is by going all the way back to town and buying more.

That stormy area also has a couple switch-hunts where you have to light the torches to move the blocks, but there’s no indication which torch moves which block, yet you need to move the blocks in a certain order to progress, so it’s just trial and error.

To get to the third dungeon, you have to pay an NPC to fix the bridge, and crossing said bridge leads to the white palace you saw on its other side on the overworld. This is the part where enemies start shooting projectiles at you, and while they don’t move fast, they certainly move faster than your character can move, which helps explain why the level design was so bland up to this point: the game’s controls aren’t conducive to challenge. When you make it through the white palace, you’ll be placed on top of the white palace on the overworld and you’ll realize that whole area wasn’t actually the third dungeon despite being as long as them and having a powerup of its own. Where to now? There’s an area with ripoff Gerudo Valley music and a cyclops that triggers an earthquake as soon as its onscreen that’ll deal damage if you happen to be standing on the ground, but that path leads to a dead end after three rooms. There’s a cave that puts foreground objects in shadow in favor of a bright background, but not long into it, you reach a hall where you’re being chased by a spike wall; problem here is that there are a couple points where you need to run forward in one branch to hit a switch, then run backward, towards the spikes, the first time being 20+ units or so, so maybe I’m still missing an item? Lemme check that walkthrough again…wait, I MISSED the dungeon?? Yup, turns out the white palace on the overworld isn’t representative of the white palace you already went through, but is instead actually the third dungeon. That exclamation point that shows up when you get past the white palace isn’t actually to go back the way you came (like it is in every other instance), but is instead to enter the third dungeon. The dungeon itself has those teleporting mages that shoot at you before going away again (yay, more waiting) and earthquakes that don’t damage you, but instead just have blocks fall from the ceiling (blocks that look identical to regular ceiling tiles, some of which fall quite late).

Despite all that, I didn’t give up until I made it to the fat bat miniboss in the upper-left area of the map. For one thing, it shoots a stream of projectiles at you, and while they don’t seem that fast if you’re just watching a video, they move faster than you can move and are made harder to dodge by the game’s momentum. However, what puts this boss over the top is that the boss is too high for you to attack with your arrows; the only way you can hit the boss is to use the magic attack you got at the end of the third dungeon, so if you run out and you didn’t put points into INT to get the MP regen ability, you have to wait for a single normal bat enemy to show up and HOPE it drops a magic refill on its death (because it’s random what drops), but even that may not be enough to use your spell one time. No wonder the guide kept recommending we put our XP into INT; the game is irredeemably tedious without it! For the record, you only needed magic for switch-hunts up to this point, and there was always plenty of jars to break that could contain MP refill, so this comes out of nowhere.

Not recommended.

This is a platformer. Left/right move (though turning around is delayed by about half a second), A button jumps, X attacks, L button does a ground-pound, and R button grabs/throws objects. If you’re walking when you push the attack button, you’ll do a roll, and if you roll off a platform, you can jump in midair like in Donkey Kong Country. If you push the attack button in midair, you’ll spin around and hover for a second, which is NOT an attack unless you buy a late-game upgrade. Underwater, you can move in any direction, and pushing the attack button does a dash forward, even if you’re not moving (and beyond breaking boxes, it also isn’t an attack). Each level has 5 coins hidden in them, and you’ll need to collect at least some of them in order to unlock future levels. While it isn’t too bad trying to get them on your first run through the levels (especially since they’re numbered based on their locations in the level), every now and then you’ll play a level where you completely miss one coin with no clue where it could be, and you don’t have the option to buy a secret-detecting upgrade until late-game.

The hub has a top-down perspective instead of a side-view, so you can also move in any direction, though there’s significantly less platforming in the hub, and your hub-jump-height is only one unit. Instead, the hub is mostly just switch-hunts to collect tonics (can be upgrades, cosmetics, or challenges that give you extra currency) or switch-hunts to unlock each level’s alt mode. They’re supposed to be alternate versions of the same level, but the differences can range from negligible (ooh, the conveyor belts move in the other direction! and that’s it!) to the alts being entirely different levels. In between, there are alts that share some rooms but have unique ones, and while they don’t irritate me as much as the ones that are basically just the same level again, you can still see paths to the alt’s rooms in the main level, so you never know if you missed a secret or if it’s a come-from. Still, even the negligible alts have some incentive to play them (and not just because you’d never know which are which until after you try them): each of the alts have 5 coins of their own (the original coins won’t show up in alts, not even in shared rooms) as well as a different bee to rescue, though personally, I’d rather the levels just have no alts and the completely-different alts be turned into their own levels. Secret exits are worse since they tend to be near the end of levels (usually between coin 4 and 5) and have their own bee, so you’d essentially be playing those levels twice to get both the secret exit and the normal exit, as well as the coin you never had a chance to get.

While the name might make you think the game is all about that challenge, the game is actually very forgiving. Not only is the game’s difficulty curve quite low, but hitboxes are also a bit smaller than you’d think (there were a few times I thought I’d get hit by an enemy but didn’t). There’s even an enemy type that won’t hurt you at all, instead just bouncing you off it, but you can still jump on it and kill it. Also, I spoke about the rolling air-jump earlier, but even if you just walk off a platform normally, the game’s very blatant Coyote Time will still let you jump, even if your character has visibly already started falling (ironically, no input-queue for if you push jump a few frames too early before landing, which IMO has more merit than Coyote Time). If you do manage to get hit, you don’t lose HP or anything; instead, your bat companion starts flying around, and if you touch the bat again, you go back to being able to take another hit, like the rings in Sonic. Honestly, the real punishment for losing the bat isn’t that you now have one-hit deaths, but that you can’t ground-pound or air-dash, both of which are required to access certain secrets. Still, even if you do lose the bat, there are bells scattered throughout the level that’ll call the bat back (though they are one-time use), and if you manage to die despite everything (admittedly, there are some instant-death traps like pits and acid), the levels have reasonably-spaced checkpoints so you’re never redoing too much, and you always respawn with the bat back.

Oh, and if you manage to die enough times on a single section, the game gives you the option to skip it.

Still, despite all the game does to be easy, the game manages to have some cheap moments every now and then. For example, one of the alts puts you in front of a vertical laser that’s slowly chasing you, so you think you have time, but when you collect the 1 coin and try to go back to the main path, you’ll see the laser come back on screen moving very fast all of a sudden and it’ll kill you (it’s an instant-death hazard). The game has a vine-climbing mechanic that isn’t introduced until level 13 (out of 17, not including alts), yet level 14 decides not only to model-swap the vines, but also give no clear indication that they’re climbable as well since they’re only introduced suspended beside a pit, so when you realize they’re not a platform, you’d think “oh, I have to jump over the pit” but no, you can suddenly grab on cross-stitched ropes in the background. The game also has stage-exclusive gimmicks, and even alt-exclusive gimmicks: level 9’s alt has updrafts that’ll push you up, but sometimes, they’ll switch off before you get above the jump-through platform, even though you can’t jump in an updraft and they’ve very-clearly been established NOT to be timing-based (they’d only turn off so there’s no collision problem with the platforms); turns out, the game expects you to figure out that you can hold up and down to slow/speed up your ascent, even though they’ve only just now been introduced and you’ve never even had to do that in this level except for that one spot where the game disables the updraft a bit too early.

EDIT: The game also has quite a few points where you need to just wait on stuff. Wait on a platform to come back, wait on a platform to spin around so the spikes aren’t pointed up, wait for an enemy to walk by the coin so you can bounce on the enemy to collect the coin…I really don’t get why devs still do this.

As for the titular Impossible Lair, it’s definitely a difficulty spike compared to the rest of the game (to the point where some traps don’t really feel like they were built around the game’s less-than-perfect controls) and there are only three checkpoints, so dying means you have to redo quite a bit more than you would in other levels. That said, all the bees you collect from the game’s main levels act as your HP in this level, so even though everything in the level can technically be avoided, you can still tank hits for those moments that maybe require a bit more precision than the controls allow, or when the game still introduces new gimmicks despite this being the last level and you’re not given the time to get the hang of them before being put in danger. I can’t say I’m a fan of this approach, and I also don’t like how much you have to go through to get to the next checkpoint, but I will praise one thing: each checkpoint saves how many hits you’ve taken, so if you do especially bad on one part, you can either keep trying with how much HP you had when you got there, or you can go back to an earlier checkpoint and try to get through that part with more HP. I’d actually had a similar idea for a while, though it’d be applied to something like Mibibli’s Quest so that each room would be a checkpoint without just letting the player tank everything; its implementation in this game leaves something to be desired, though.

EDIT: Oh, and the level disables your equipped tonics without warning, so that could lead to another cheap hit before you realize what happened.

Overall, the game isn’t bad, but I can see how it ended up being an Epic freebie. Wait for a sale.

Did you know Cave Story has mods? I only found out about WTF Story by chance. As you might be able to guess, I only just now got around to playing and beating WTF Story, and it actually starts off pretty good: you’re just jumping around spikes, and the game goes out of its way to teleport you back to a nearby checkpoint if you die rather than use the regular Cave Story death. Really, my only issue was with the momentum that’s already part of Cave Story and Kero Blaster…but then I made it to the end of the room and only found a puddle and a locked door. Thing is, this game’s entire first area is strictly linear, outside of the secret path that gives you +1 max HP, which I already went through. I looked up a walkthrough, and it turns out you have to drown yourself on purpose, which teleports you to a large room with several rows of chests and a door that leads to a spike pit. Now, you have to talk to the NPC in the room so the camera will pan over to the general area of which chest you need to check next, then you gotta keep checking every chest until you get the right one and the camera pans somewhere else. Once you’ve examined the last chest, a new door appears, but it’s a fake door that’ll kill you on contact, so what you actually need to do is speak to the NPC another time to get an item, then enter the spike pit room, at which point the item activates and lets you progress. WTF, indeed. AFAIK the game never gets that arbitrary again, but you also never see the quick-retry spikes again (it goes back to regular Cave Story deaths). Plus, it still has a bunch of cheap hits, like with the Tetris level where you’re just waiting for the first half to be over and can only memorize (not react) to where the pieces fall in the second half, or like the flooded pipes room where if you don’t hit the correct one of the identically-looking switches last, you’ll get trapped underwater and have to wait 100 seconds to drown and restart. Then there’s the snow area, which isn’t so much hard as it is long and repetitive (and while I don’t remember if the snowmen are spirte-swaps of an original Cave Story enemy, I did notice they share the same problem as the wrench-throwers from Kero Blaster), which is then followed by a town where you just run back and forth doing trading-quests. The bosses are okay, but after the first two, they all seem to be designed around the block gun, because trying to avoid all the stuff they spawn using the original Cave Story machine gun is near (if not actually) impossible, and the final boss is no exception. Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend it due to all the cheap and arbitrary stuff it does. Do any of you have a better Cave Story mod to recommend?

After that, I beat Iji, and wow, this game has almost all of my pet peeves. Bland, flat level design, RPG mechanics, reload times for every individual shot you fire (and a similar-if-not-longer delay every time you so much as switch weapons), instant shots instead of avoidable projectiles, NO foreshadow animation for said instant shots, and worst of all, said instant shot is a spread shot, so you can still get hit even while ducking behind cover, and that’s all just from the first enemy! Later enemies have machine guns, and while they don’t spread, they fire much longer, so you’d be stuck waiting behind cover before you can retaliate. Yeah, the game teaches you very early on that this isn’t a game where you can avoid damage, so you might as well put all your points into attack and health, then just go in guns blazing. This strategy is further enforced by how many health pickups the game showers you in (at least on Normal mode); even though the credits said I took over 200 points of damage, I only died maybe twice or thrice, and one of those was because the boss was a riddle instead of an actual boss (you only needed the kick to open doors until that point!). Ironically, the game slowly gets more good design ideas as you progress: there are weapons that not only have foreshadow animations, but an actual, visible projectile you can duck under (though the different enemy appearances don’t indicate which weapons they have), and the final boss could work in an actual good game since it’s all different shot patterns and foreshadow animations for the attacks that’d otherwise be too fast to dodge (though part of that might’ve been the severe lag, which also started happening in the last couple stages). This is in contrast to previous bosses, like the “bait the metal orb into the electricity” boss, where the only time it moves from the middle of the arena is when it’s rubber-banding to you. By the way, the level design never goes beyond its bland, flat halls, so all combat against regular enemies is exactly the same and gets pretty repetitive. Also not recommended.

But still, if you know me, you could probably guess those wouldn’t be games I’d like much, so let’s focus on another game:

This is an action platformer. You can move left or right, you can jump, and you can wall-jump, but each jump spins your character 90-degrees to the right, and since you’re a cube with different colors on each side, the jump button also changes which colored-side faces which direction. At first, this seems like a neat concept: colored tiles are only solid if you’re touching them with the correct side of your cube, and enemies only die if you touch their colored side with your like-colored side. The problem comes in when you realize this isn’t a puzzle game, but an ACTION platformer; you’ll need to spin to the correct side with split second timing, but even after 90 levels of precision-jumps, it’ll never become intuitive which color is after which (especially when you need to switch which side you need to keep track of). You’ll need to push the jump button to spin to the correct side, but if you let go of the jump button so you CAN push it again, you won’t get your full jump height because that’s how platformers work. Ultimately, it comes across as clunky, and the loading screen’s implication of having a different color assigned to a different button would’ve made this game SO much more manageable.

And that’s just the conceptual problem. If you actually play the game, you’ll start to notice that the controls seem…slippery. Sure, your character’s forward movement is pretty brisk, but it’s more than just not being able to react in time; you can swear that your character is stopping after you let go of forward, sometimes almost an entire unit after you let go. After playing over 90 levels of this game, I have come to the conclusion that the game DOES HAVE FORWARD MOMENTUM. You won’t notice it just by watching the trailers since the player’s top speed and deceleration are quick, but it’s there just enough to screw you over during key moments, and it’s worse in mid-air. Even jumping isn’t immune: if you let go of the jump button, you’ll still go well over a unit above where you let go, making it next to impossible to be precise when jumping below low-hanging hazards. I honestly thought my controller was starting to malfunction, but the same thing happens with keyboard as well. This is a perfect example of why I stopped buying games and why I’ll probably never spend real money on a game again: even if it looks like it does everything right, you never know what sneaky cheap crap the devs might’ve snuck in.

Oh, but even if you can look past the base control issues, the game still has problems. After the first boss, the game introduces lasers, and there are a bunch of levels where the lasers shoot up and you need to ride them up to progress. Problem is, these lasers work off a physics engine: when you jump into one, you’ll still be falling and you’ll need to rely on the laser to slow your fall (meaning even if you jump in near the top, you can still fall to the bottom and hit the hazardous floor and die). Plus, many of these lasers shoot you up above where you can see, but due to the physics engine, they can move you so fast that you won’t have any time to react to when your new path shows up or to the hazard ceiling that’s placed above many of the upward lasers. It gets even worse when the lasers are combined with the game’s faster-than-you homing shots, because now you somehow have to avoid them while also having little control over your character.

Despite all that, the part that made me give up was in level 95. See, when you touch a colored tile with your like-colored side, it not only turns into a block, but fades into a solid color; when you get off, it fades back into transparency. At first, this is just a neat visual effect, but when lasers are introduced, you’ll slowly start being required to use the colored tiles to block the lasers. Thing is, level 94 introduces a sinister trap: you need to turn the wall solid, then jump OVER where the laser is before the wall goes back to being transparent, while also remembering to hit the jump button again so you can jump up the other side of the colored wall. Not only does this require more precision than the game’s controls really allow, but you’ll also notice that touching colored tiles won’t put them at their max brightness by default. This means if you wall-jump too early, the wall fades too quick and the laser will kill you before you can jump over it, but if you wait too long, you’ll slide too far down (because you always slide down when hugging a wall in this game). Still, at least with level 94, it was just one laser, but level 95 makes you do it with two lasers in a row and changes the color of the wall mid-way AND it’s a timed level, meaning if you succeed too slowly, the platform you need goes out of reach and you have to kill yourself anyway.

Absolutely.

Not.

Recommended.

I’d known about this game ever since BalrogTheMaster made a video about it, but I never got around to playing it until now.

DISCLAIMER: I played the free version on itch.io, so I can’t say for sure if any of extra content from the paid version is worth paying the extra $6, but if it matches the quality of the rest of the game, I’m gonna say no (at least wait for a sale).

Anyway, this is a platformer. Standard left/right movement and jump, but while your shots travel straight horizontally away from you at first, they’ll slow and fall down three units away from the edge of the screen (as opposed to after traveling a set distance from where they were fired), then disappear after falling another three units. It’s just a weird little detail at first, but there are a few times the game makes use of this, putting an enemy below where you could otherwise hit (meaning you gotta walk back enough so your shots will fall onto the enemy) or putting an enemy close to the screen’s edge where your shots can’t reach. After the first level, you reach a hub where you can play the next 3-4 stages in any order (I say 3-4 because one of the four is just a joke level), and once you beat them and the following 5th stage, you reach a hub where you can choose which of the next 8 stages you want to play next. Unlike the previous levels, you get a new power after beating each of these 8 stages; it’s kinda like Mega Man, but there’s no weapon energy, so you can use those new powers as much as you want. There’s also a 9th power you can get by going to the city a 2nd time, but this is just a one-time-use power that you can only refresh in the hub or by losing all your lives. Oh yeah, this game also has a lives system; run out and you have to start the level over. I can give the length between checkpoints a bit of a pass since you have a health bar (even on the hardest difficulty) and the dev wouldn’t want the player to tank everything, but I’ll never understand modern games that keep the lives system since all it does is make you redo what you’ve already done if you die too much.

One thing I distinctly remember mentioned in the video is that enemies and gimmicks are introduced safely so that you can see how they work before you’re in any real danger. While that’s true for quite a few of them, it isn’t true for all of them. For example, in the very first level, there are pencils that spawn enemies from their bottom, and the pencil shrinks as you shoot it before it’s destroyed. Well, there’s one part in the first level where there’s a gap, followed by a pencil, followed by a health pickup, and you might think this means you can safely jump on the top of the pencil, but no, that just hurts you. In another level, there are tiny factories (that don’t show up outside this one level) that produce cloud blocks that move up, and when you jump on said platforms, they start moving to the right. These platforms are introduced over a spike pit and lead to a higher, stationary platform with enemies coming toward you, so naturally, you’ll jump up to shoot the enemies…except the cloud platform won’t keep going to the right like the ones in Super Mario Bros. 3; it suddenly starts moving up again. Another gimmick that doesn’t show up outside of the level its introduced are blue arrow outlies: when you touch one, your character freezes in place, so you might think “oh, it’s like those earlier enemies that trap me in a painting and I just gotta tap the buttons enough to get out” except when you hit those buttons, you get shot. Turns out, it’s a rhythm game gimmick: you have to hit the arrow key that corresponds to the outline (or hit the attack button if the outline corresponds to your projectile attack), and you do this AFTER your character is in front of the outline, completely obscuring it. Now, if you know rhythm games, you know that you’ll be penalized just as much for hitting the button too late as you would for hitting the wrong button, but near the end of the stage, you have to go down a one-tile-wide vertical shaft that not only has the outlines, but also hazards moving back and forth, and though I tried several times, I never made it through without getting hit, and the only thing I can think of is that you can just wait forever while the outlines have you stunned (which is unintuitive) because I’m quite convinced that timing your fall past the moving hazards otherwise is impossible without taking damage. Issues like that are strewn throughout the game, and I’d be here for quite some time if I were to list them all.

I will list the one that I really didn’t like: the level “digitaland” introduces skull timers in an empty room so you can easily deduce that you need to get out of the room before time runs out, but then it immediately introduces blackout rooms so every few seconds, you won’t be able to see what’s where. That’s still not too bad, but THEN it has a blackout room with a skull timer that scrolls, so you can’t even see everything at once. Plus, this room also has enemies that dash left and right horizontally while shooting vertically, and while I’m sure the dev thought these enemies were introduced fine, you’ve only seen them at the very top of the screen before this. Combine this with the blackout and the skull timer and having to scroll the screen to parts you haven’t seen yet, and you realize you’re not gonna know that they don’t actually turn around on the edge of the ceiling/floor and instead keep going until they hit a wall until it’s too late. Also, the boss of this level can teleport and suddenly summon a wall to push you off the arena into a pit. Yeah, there’s quite a bit of trial and error in this game.

Oh wait, there’s one more part I should bring up: Gasman (one of the named bosses) will move left/right horizontally at the top of the screen, then come down and shoot a bouncing green skull before moving left/right horizontally on the floor before finally stopping and going back up to the ceiling to repeat the pattern. The skulls stay bouncing in the arena until you shoot them, at which point they’ll stop bouncing and slowly pick up speed moving towards where you shot them from. That already has a bit of trial and error to it, but after a couple deaths, you’ll also notice that the boss doesn’t stay on the ground for a set time before going back up; the boss could bounce off the walls three times or only go halfway across the arena, and many of those times, I was mid-jump directly above the boss and took damage before I, or anyone in that situation, could react to the boss suddenly stopping and moving upward. I tried to use the default projectile at first, but once I realized the randomness inherent to the boss’s pattern, I switched to the guided shots so I could hit the boss when it was in the air to get the fight over with quicker.

Like I said, there’s a loooot of issues with this game.

On the subject of bosses, there are also two bosses that get reused three times. The first boss in the game has a 3-layered health bar, so the fight already lasts quite a while, but this same boss also gets reused in one of the 2nd hub’s 8 levels, just now with the gimmick of left/right movement reversed (you still face and shoot right when you push right to move left and vice versa, so it’s not a complete rehash) and the boss only has one health bar this time. That’s understandable, but the level between the second and third stage select hubs has you fight the boss AGAIN, now with 2 health bars and some red rings to foreshadow explosions during the second phase (which is otherwise identical to the first phase, which is identical to all the other times you fought the boss).

The second boss that gets recycled is completely optional all three times, and the arena is different each time. This does mean how you avoid its zig-zag stomp attack is a bit different, but I don’t think the differences justify how many hits it takes to defeat the boss each time.

As for the optional stages themselves, their entrances are hidden inside other stages. I was able to find the last two just fine, and there was one spot in one of the 1st hub’s levels that looked like it could contain a secret, but your main projectile doesn’t go down far enough to clear the glass blocks out of the way, and the game won’t let you bring later powers back to the earlier levels, so I looked up a walkthrough. Turns out, the tank that kills all enemies on contact and doesn’t have a cannon graphic on it at all…can shoot a projectile, and that’s how you clear the blocks away to reach the first secret level. Thing is, you still don’t unlock anything just by beating all three secret levels, so I looked up a walkthrough again and found out that there’s a PERMANENTLY MISSABLE item in the level between the 1st and 2nd hub where the game has that slide-until-you-hit-a-wall gimmick (followed by a crappy fighting game gimmick, but I digress). I did see the item, but when I tried to get it, I was just barely blocked by a couple pixels (the top of my sprite hit the bottom of the solid tiles and stopped me, around three moves away from the item), so I had assumed the item was deliberately unreachable on purpose (because that’s the kind of joke this game would have).

By the way, the 3rd hub has two NPCs who tell you part of a code to enter on the title screen. Both NPCs are in the free version, but when you type in the code they give you, you’re told the code won’t work on the free version! Okay, now I’m even more convinced that the permanently missable item really was impossible to get, but only on the free version. Either way, I’m not replaying this whole game just to check.

Overall, this game’s pretty mediocre. Parts are well designed, but nearly every level has some trial and error to it (ranging from tolerable to frustrating), and that’s to say nothing of the quickly-abandoned gimmicks and occasional forced damage (reducer orbs). If you haven’t played a halfway-decent platformer in a while, you’ll better appreciate what it gets right, but even then, I still say to pass up the paid version and check out the free version on itch.io instead (but if you already have the paid version, then yeah, go ahead and play the paid version).

This is a puzzle game, but its “open world” claim is kinda nonsense (apparently that means different things to us). You have a linear hub and access to a few levels, and at the end of each set of levels is the gimmick intro level for the next set; beat the gimmick intro level and the gate to the next area of the linear hub opens. There are set fast travel points along the very linear hub so that if you miss or skip a level, you won’t have to walk all the way back. As for the levels themselves, there are spouts and pipe segments scattered around the level, and you have to move the pipe pieces to connect the spouts. What sets this apart from other Sokoban games is that L-pieces will rotate if you push them from within the corner, effectively mirroring them after two pushes (though this results in the corner being on the other side, so you need to get around if you want to mirror it again). You also have an undo and reset button, and the undo will even undo your resets, which is nice.

Speaking of the gimmick intro levels, they’re very poorly designed. Normally, tutorials are supposed to railroad you into doing the right thing even before you know how it works; that way, you learn the mechanics without being explicitly told what to do. In contrast, while the game does a decent job of teaching you the core mechanics in the first few levels, this game’s gimmick-intro levels set you up for failure, forcing you to restart after your first doomed attempt and making you go “okay, what does the game want me to do now?” No joke, the ONE TIME I looked up a walkthrough for this game was the “easy” magnet pipes’ intro level: yes, you’re shown that the magnet pipes’ will stick to each other if their openings touch, but then you’re stuck with what’s effectively a giant └┐ piece that’s mirrored from how you need it in order to connect the spouts, and you can’t rotate it since you can only move it one unit down (not horizontal) and there are no holes for the other branch to rotate down into. Turns out, contrary to how every other pipe piece in the game works, magnet pipes can still be rotated by their individual segments even after being connected into one giant piece, and you’d only know this in-game if you happened to push on the exact right tile on this massive └┐ piece (an you only get the one unit of movement before the whole thing hits the bottom wall and gets stuck permanently if you pushed in the wrong spot).

The non-introduction levels fare better, though the game still has problems with abandoning gimmicks or even facets of gimmicks. Yeah, the late-game levels will generally take you more time to solve than early-game levels, but that’s because even after the gimmick introduction level, the game often still hasn’t fully taught you how the gimmick works, and once you’ve finally seen all the possibilities, all of a sudden the world is over and you’re at the next gimmick introduction level. The 16-level-long postgame fares better since it isn’t directly introducing anything new, but it still requires the use of mechanics you haven’t used before, like combining the pit gimmick with the rotating tiles gimmick so you end up with an L piece that only has one tile on the ground and the other two in the air.

Oh, and the difficulty curve is pretty wonky, too, and not just because of the hub allowing a stage select; there late-game levels easier than early-game levels, there are “expert” levels easier than “hard” levels (same for “hard” and “normal” ones), and there are even postgame levels (notably the last two) that are easier than certain main-game levels.

Overall, out of all the level-design-based puzzle games I’ve played, this might just be the worst of them. Yeah, there are some genuinely tricky levels, but the near-constant introduction of new stuff combined with how bad the game is at introducing stuff make this game very hard to recommend. It’s maybe worth a playthrough if you already have it, but if you don’t have it, don’t buy it; wait until it’s free or skip it.

P.S. Level 48 makes you push and rotate an L piece behind no-collision foreground objects so you can’t see what you’re doing and just have to memorize the steps you’ve taken.

I had vague memories of seeing this game back on Screwattack, so I decided to check it out and WOW, this game is terrible.

Platformer. Left/right movement has momentum, but only on the ground and not in midair; jumps are floaty and forced-full (you have to hit the down button mid-jump to stop your jump and fall back down); your default projectile attack is okay, but enemies take several hits to kill, so you’d think “oh, I’ll buy attack upgrades” except equipping those upgrades causes your gun to use energy, and if you run out of energy, you can’t double jump or slide, both of which are needed to avoid certain boss attacks. You also have lives, and if you run out, you have to replay the level from the beginning.

When the level design isn’t bland, it’s cheap. Even in the very first level, there are low-flying planes in the background that’ll shoot bombs into the foreground, and both are small enough that your character can block visibility while you’re dealing with the enemies in front of you. Parts of the game have “low lighting” so you can only see a few units in front of your character, and it doesn’t take long for a vertical shaft to drop you into lava (and this whole level has frequent screen shaking for no reason), and the second or third low lighting level has an enemy right over a pit causing you to get hit and fall down, only to later have a flat hall with spider enemies that jump at you not-fast, but faster than you can get out of the way or counterattack. Water will slowly damage you, but the ship level has you swim through multiple underwater rooms (some of which also have low lighting) while also having a bunch of health pickups to offset the forced-damage you’ll take. The jail level’s second room has a 3-way shooter in front of you on your level so you can’t duck below the bottom shot, and if you try to go back far enough to slip between the bottom two shots, you’ll trigger the screen transition back to the first room and respawn any enemies you killed. Later in the jail level, there’s a seemingly empty all with a row of blocks in the middle, but if you walk under the blocks, you’ll run into another 3-way shooter and you’ll notice that the space is just small enough to where you can’t dodge the shots unless you walk back and jump over. The Berlin level was the closest the game got to having fair-yet-not-bland level design by having you make short-hops under a ceiling of barbed wire, but that segment starts with the barbed wire curling from the wall to the ceiling, and the corner piece’s hitbox is much larger than its sprite suggests.

The bosses started off fine, having patterns you can actually react to and avoid despite the controls, but they tank, too. The ship boss does short hops that can only be avoided if you slide (uses energy), and it also has a move where it throws a projectile forward and charges, but when you try to jump over the boss, it’ll suddenly do an uppercut, and you can only avoid this if you double-jumped (uses energy) beforehand. Also, this boss can block your shots every time it takes one hit, and these bosses already have a lot of health. Not long after this boss is a boss that says still most of the fight, but it’s all underwater and the boss regularly summons more damage-sponge enemies. However, the part that made me give up was the transforming tank boss in the mountain level. it starts off where you can hurt it, but after it shoots one missile, it goes into tank mode and chases you. Shoot the front, it’s invulnerable; try to get behind it, it turns around immediately so you can’t; try to wait it out, nothing happens and it just keeps chasing you forever. I even tried to look up a walkthrough to see what I was supposed to do and couldn’t find anything, so I just quit.

Absolutely not recommended.

This is a bullet hell SHMUP. Left stick moves, R button shoots, L button uses a screen-clearing bomb if you have one, and the A button shoots a laser when your meter is filled. You have a health bar, and even when you lose a life, you just get a line of text saying how many lives you have left and your character just keeps moving forward (instead of the usual “explode and immediately fly back on screen”).

Not much to say about this one; it’s only three levels long, and the levels themselves don’t overstay their welcome, either (I beat the whole game without losing all my lives). As is typical for bullet hells, your hitbox is much smaller than your character sprite, though actually taking damage results in a simple pop sound effect, so there were times I wasn’t sure if I actually avoided damage or not. It has a decent variety of enemies and bullet patterns, though in level 2, the player character and even a few enemies tend to blend into the background if you aren’t looking directly at them. Also, while most bosses tend to stay by the bottom and let you shoot at them from the top, the level 2 boss has a near-death attack where it’ll suddenly bolt to the corners of the screen, including the top ones (naturally giving you no time to react nor to move out of the way since it’s way faster than your character can move). The level 3 boss (the final boss) does something similar where its tentacles will shoot into the screen from the horizontal edges, later gaining the ability to bolt upward/downward after stabbing and shooting their volley.

Maybe worth a playthrough if you got that 1700+ itch io bundle, but I don’t think I’d recommend getting it on its own. I did have some fun with it, but its short length, visibility issues and cheap hits make it tough to recommend even at its cheap price.

EDIT: Oh yeah, the game starts with this weird lighting effect where the corners are dark and the middle has a yellow transparent circle, but you can turn that off in the options and play the game normally.

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