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


  • Splasher

    4 hours playtime

    20 of 47 achievements

This is a platformer. You start off only being able to run and jump, but near the end of the first level, you get the ability to shoot water (removes paint from a surface and damages small enemies). After seven levels, you unlock red ink (stick to a surface and paralyze enemies), and once you get past level 14, you finally get to fire yellow ink (bounce off a surface–higher than your normal jump height–and can push enemies). There are twenty two levels in the whole game.

Each level has seven hostages: six requiring a small detour through a short platforming challenge, and the last requiring you to get 700 gold drops in the level. The detours for the main hostages are short enough that you can always see said hostages on screen simply by playing through the level (so you won’t have to worry about doing any aimless wandering), and all hostages carry a sign to let you know where they are in relation to the others (like the letters in Donkey Kong Country or Super Lucky’s Tale). Sometimes, one of these hostages will be in a vortex that sends you to a “quarantine zone” where you need to kill all the enemies to free the hostage. They start off as just waves of enemies, but luckily, the game eventually realizes how boring this is and adds more platforming challenges to them, even getting to the point where the enemies are in their own room and you need to reach a switch that kills them for you. As for the final hostage in each level, while you usually end up with slightly more than 700 gold drops at the end of each level, it’s very rare for something to give you only one drop, so missing one thing still means you’d have to go through the whole level again. I only missed two hostages in the entire game (and both were the last ones in their respective levels): level 3 had a large, open room with a small fork in the bottom right that led to a gold-drop wheel, and level 9 had a switch to kill the first two turret enemies (you get around 10 gold drops when an enemy dies), and I only had to replay those two levels once to see what I missed. My only issue with this is that the reward for rescuing all the hostages is just another speed-run option when there are already two available (on top of time-attack mode for each level), so if you reach the end of a level and realize you missed one, I wouldn’t recommend going back unless you’re trying to get all the achievements.

As for the rest of the game, it’s pretty good. The game does introduce various traps, but they usually show up in at least two or three different levels so it doesn’t feel gimmicky. The game is really easy before you get the red ink, but later levels have enough reasonable challenge to make up for it (though the two wind levels are definitely difficulty spikes). Mid-air movement does have some momentum, and it does take a bit to get used to, but it’s still manageable. Some hostages are placed in devious positions so that while you’ll certainly see them on your first pass, you’ll see them get killed and have to kill yourself in order to have a real attempt at rescuing them. Of course, most of them are in fair positions (sometimes even being a drop in difficulty compared to the rest of the level), and as mentioned previously, there isn’t much point to rescuing all of them anyway.

There were a couple other problems I had with the game. The train level starts off fine, but when you enter the train, it has a foreground object obscure what’s in the cart until after you enter, meaning you have less time to react to what’s in there. This level also doesn’t have a second checkpoint until after you get past the train, making it the longest you have to go between checkpoints in the game (it’s not really hard as much as it’s annoying since you have to redo all of that for getting hit once). Also, there are three or four flood levels, and just like with Ori, the flood has rubber-banding AI: no matter if you stop for a few seconds to collect the gold-drop wheel or rush past it, the acid will always be the same distance from you when you reach certain pre-checkpoint landmarks. I don’t know why developers do this: it’s easily noticeable and disingenuous to those of us who want a set challenge. If you want your game to appeal to rage-quitters, at least be straightforward about it instead of pulling an Extra Credits and pretending like they overcame a much harder challenge than they did.

Still, despite its shortcomings, I’d recommend this game if you like platformers. It’s slow to start and can be cheap with its hostage positions, but the majority of the game is well polished and challenging.

Now that my Game Pass month is up, it’s back to Steam games (and of course Wargroove got free DLC right after I played it; oh well).

  • Snake pAss

    6 hours playtime

    15 of 33 achievements

This is a collectathon physics game. You move by holding the right trigger (the left stick just aims your character) and you can hold A to lift your head (the closest you have to a jump in this game, so it’s not really a platformer). You can also push Y to lift your tail in case you need a bit less weight behind you, but beyond that, you only have control over your head; the rest of your body is pure deadweight. Plus, if you aren’t constantly moving left and right, your forward momentum is excruciatingly slow, and I’m not talking about a simple “forward-left, forward-right” march, either: you practically have to be making U-turns to get any decent speed given how large and empty some of the game’s areas are.

The game doesn’t have any enemies or bosses; instead, you’ll be fighting the controls and physics. Most of the game-play involves wrapping yourself around poles to get across pits or reach higher ledges, but it isn’t uncommon for your head to get caught on the pole and suddenly start going the other way around, unraveling yourself in the process (at least half of the times I fell, it was because of this). Later in the game, moving poles get introduced, and the game physics work in such a way that even if you’re completely wrapped around the pole, the simple act of the pole moving will cause you to start unraveling. Sure, you can “grip” by holding the left trigger, but this is the most unreliable mechanic in the game: not only does it slow your movement to a near-standstill, but it doesn’t help with the moving-pole unraveling and makes the head-caught-on-pole reversal even worse! It’s really only useful for pulling switches.

And when the physics do work like you’d expect them to, you’ll notice that wrapping around poles is really all the game has going for it as far as challenge goes. The second world introduces water, but since there are no enemies and you can’t drown, it’s really just an easier way to move vertically. The third world introduces hot coals, but those are just a more forgiving version of the spikes from earlier. The final world introduces wind, and only now do we finally get something that makes the game a bit trickier than getting some of the coins in world 1. You’re still just wrapping around poles, but now you have to keep the wind in mind (and there’s more parts where you need to glide over a pit from one set of poles to another).

However, my least favorite parts of the game were when it dropped trying to be challenging at all and just went full switch-hunt/hidden object mode. Sure, some of the coins (and even bubbles) require trickier-than-normal positioning in order to reach them without falling, but half of them are just “here’s an out-of-the-way alcove that’s basically just a split-path and only requires pointing the camera in the right direction to notice,” and that percentage only gets larger the further you get in the game. It’s even worse when it affects mandatory progress: the third world has a dark red sky, dark coals, and even the grass is tinted with that same darkness, yet the switches remain the same dark red they always are, so even though they aren’t that hard to reach, it may still take you a few minutes to realize “oh wait, the switch I’m missing is right there.”

Overall, this game is okay. It’s about as well polished as a physics game could be (even having a decent difficulty curve if you completely ignore the collectibles), but it’s still a physics game, with all the inherent unreliability that implies. If you’re looking for a game that does something unique, get it on sale.

OH BOY, let me tell you a tale.

I knew about the “three months of Xbox Game Pass for one dollar” deal for a while, and I even used Microsoft Rewards to get a $5 gift card so I could get it without actually spending money. However, I thought to myself “I’ll wait until after the holidays, when my brothers go back home. That way, I’ll have more time to play.” Alas, by the time that happened and I went to buy it, the deal was over and I could only get one month for a dollar! To make things worse, the Microsoft Store app on my gaming desktop stopped downloading anything; whenever I tried, it would show up in the download queue and not progress (and since the app is baked into Windows, it’s not like I can just uninstall and reinstall it). I did what I could in an attempt to fix it (going into settings to “repair” the app, typing commands into PowerShell, etc.), but no luck; the only other options left would involve wiping a lot of the files I had downloaded, which I didn’t want to do since they’d take days to re-download, with no guarantee of success for what I was trying to do. This meant not only that I missed out on two months of Game Pass, but I could only download and play these games on a much older computer, one that is far less powerful and inevitably lagged when running the more detailed games (even on their lowest settings). This is easily the worst thing to happen to me this whole decade. ;P

I’ll still try to give the games a fair shake, though. First up:

Ori and the Tree that Looks Like an Erupting Volcano

This is a metroidvania. You start off only being able to move and jump, but you get more abilities as you progress, like an attack, a wall jump move, and even a move that lets you grab a projectile and launch yourself from it, sending the projectile in the opposite direction. Your attack is a short-ranged projectile that auto-targets the nearest enemy, so not only does attacking not interfere with your movement at all, but you also won’t have to worry about aiming or even facing the enemy. Also, designated save points are few and far between; for the most part, you have to save by spending a point on your magic meter. While that may seem scary at first, it can be done almost anywhere, and the game is pretty good about giving you more magic (especially as your max magic grows, eventually surpassing your max HP).

Something I liked about the game is that it isn’t afraid to have challenging platforming segments. Specifically, there’s a part near the end where the floor is lava, and you have to grab onto the enemies’ projectiles to launch yourself to the other side of the room. A bunch of other metroidvanias I’ve played have pretty dull level design since the focus is supposed to be on “exploration” or something (and then when you do explore, you hit a roadblock that needs a later power-up, so you gotta go back to where you were), but games like this one, Battle Kid, and the Metroid games are why I still keep metroidvanias on my radar. It even has a pretty solid difficulty curve, which I’ve noticed has become increasingly rare among games.

There were some things I didn’t like, though. Not far in the game, you’ll encounter some logs covering holes, and at first, I thought I needed to go back and get another power, but it turns out I had to bait an enemy into shooting it with a projectile, something that wasn’t conveyed before. The game also has a tendency to make hazards blend in with the environment too well, and I’m not just saying that because I had to play at a lower resolution; here’s a high-res screenshot of one of the flame cannons (something you likely wouldn’t notice during game-play unless it was already shooting flames):

Hint: it isn't bright green

There’s also this one area with a gravity changing gimmick that never shows up again: as long as you’re holding the orb, you can walk on red platforms, some of which curve into the walls and ceiling, and walking across them shifts gravity so that now you’re on the walls or ceiling (letting go of the orb turns gravity back to normal). The problem is when it tries to have standalone platforms change the gravity. You see, the mechanic is introduced with these giant, broad curves, clearly transitioning from the ground to the wall, etc.:

Look at those big, beautiful curves!

But then the game introduces these platforms, and you’re supposed to figure out instantly that they also change gravity if you keep walking??

THIS IS LITERALLY A CASE OF CUTTING CORNERS!!

Those look no different from practically every other platform in the game, especially these, which not only don’t change gravity (you’ll just end up walking off them if you try), but are also introduced before the block in the previous image, making things even more confusing.

Don't be fooled by these imitators.

Why couldn’t the gravity-changing platform have been a proper circle instead of a square with the edges filed off? Or heck, change the level design a bit so that the player would want to try walking off one instead of having the first one be surrounded by spikes on all sides? This is such an easy problem to fix.

Also, instead of bosses, the game has escape sequences. The first one is in a vertical climb where you have to run away from a flood. Not a bad concept, but the flood has rubber-banding AI, meaning it will always be right behind you no matter how well you do on previous segments. Because of this, I’m convinced that it isn’t possible to get some of the experience orbs without taking damage.

The second one is in a collapsing temple, and while it isn’t always a vertical climb, there are still way too many parts where you have to go up while parts of the ceiling are falling down, giving you less time to react. This is especially an issue when you’re going up and suddenly there’s a ceiling covered in spikes that’s also a dead end, so you have to go back down while also being chased by the falling spikes and duck into the nearest horizontal turn so the falling spikes can break through the floor and reveal the actual path forward. This is followed by a segment where you have to backtrack through an earlier area, but the antagonist is watching, so you only have a couple seconds to run between background objects before being killed. It’s much better designed, though despite there being plenty of safe areas, you can’t save until afterward, so you may have to re-do quite a bit just for another chance at the part that killed you last time.

The third (and final) one takes the worst parts of the second escape sequence (bounce to reach a higher platform while lava rocks are falling from above, also some branches will collapse when you touch them while others are safe, and we won’t tell you which ones!) and combines it with the “escape the antagonist’s attack” thing, except now the time between being seen and being attacked varies between each segment of the escape (and you can’t even see the antagonist, unlike last time), so you never know how much time you have. This is also the last part before the credits, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to end on.

Overall, I did like the game, but I don’t think I’d recommend it at full price since it does have some rather noteworthy problems. Still, though, I’m looking forward to the sequel; I can’t wait for it to be free on Epic. Next game:

Don't cross your code in real life or you'll get a syntax error.

This is a hack ‘n’ slash with RPG mechanics. You have a melee attack that automatically moves you forward for the last couple hits in the combo, a ranged attack that not only makes you move much slower, but also takes a second of aiming before you can shoot straight, and a dash move that can only be used three times in a row before pushing the button just causes you to spin in place and delay the dash’s recharge. You can also stop in place to spawn a shield, but you still take damage even if an attack hits the shield part. Also, you get knocked back and stunned for a bit each time you’re hit, but you don’t have any invincibility frames.

First, I should point out that the game fails my one criteria for good graphics: being able to distinguish what’s what from a glance. It’s fine for the most part: edges of the floor are clearly outlined, and enemies and other hazards are easily distinguishable from the ground. However, the game also tries to have jumping segments and elevation, and this is where the problems arise. See, it isn’t uncommon for these jumping segments to have multiple elevations mixed in with each other (instead of just one or two), but there’s no easy way to tell if that next platform is in jumping distance for your current elevation or if it’s actually a taller one located further south. Sure, it’s possible to see a platform’s height by counting how many wall tiles are between it and ground level, but again, that’s only if you can see the wall, as it could be blocked by an even taller platform. Why couldn’t the game give the ground a brighter palette for higher elevations and a darker one for lower elevations? The sad thing is this flaw was probably an intentional part of the game’s “challenge”; after all, jumping is done automatically after running off a ledge or walking into a one-unit-high wall (the latter of which slows your movement). There’s no designated jump button, and thus, no actual platforming challenge; the only way you can mess up in these parts is if you don’t point the stick in the right direction, and the only way that can happen is if you don’t see where you need to go (and the only way that could happen for these parts is if the graphics don’t do their job).

Credit where it’s due, though: this is one of the few hack ‘n’ slash games to utilize level design. The game may introduce enemies in empty arenas, but they’ll show up later around other enemies and/or in an arena with holes that you need to avoid falling into (and sometimes can knock the enemies into). The first dungeon even has actual puzzles between battles (even if they are pretty easy ones), which is something I wasn’t expecting. Too bad they get phased out in the second dungeon, so by the time you reach the third and fourth, the non-combat parts are all just switch-hunts, timing, and the occasional introduction of a new mechanic that requires trial-and-error to figure out (except for the brief moment in the final level where it brings back the first dungeon’s puzzle mechanics, having actual puzzles once again).

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like the game for getting right what so many others get wrong, it ruins its goodwill with pretty much everything else it does, especially its RPG mechanics. The start of the game is pretty linear and not too bad, and even when you reach the overworld and can head over to the first dungeon, there aren’t too many problems outside of side-quests being either switch-hunts or killing a bunch of the same enemies (one of which is a mole that stays underground for most of the fight, making it even more boring to fight). Even the part where a side character challenges you to a duel, tells you that you’re under-leveled, and has attacks that aren’t telegraphed because they’re modeled after your own, isn’t so bad since you don’t have to win those duels to progress (though having it be a “best 5 out of 9” is an absurd waste of time in my opinion; why couldn’t it just be one round, or at least a “best 2/3”? There’s even one point where you’re forced to do three duels in a row–three “best 5 out of 9” matches–before you can progress, and again, you don’t have to win; you just have to do them). The MAIN problems start to show up when you make it to the first dungeon and are once again told that your stats are too low. See, unless you actually grind on those side-quests, you won’t have enough money to buy the only available attack upgrade, meaning enemies in the dungeons will take a while to kill (though it’s still easier than parts of the overworld up to this point since you often only have to deal with one or two enemies at a time in the first dungeon). I did happen to find an attack upgrade in the first dungeon, but that was the only time that happened; I had to buy equip-able items every time afterward. However, it gets worse when the game introduces bugs and ice. See, ice is blue, and when the bug enemy is about to charge at you, it turns blue, and to top it off, the game makes you fight multiple bugs at once (starting with four, then going up to like twelve or something, then having so many that the enemy counter goes haywire, and don’t forget they still take a while to kill if you can’t afford the attack upgrade as a result of not wanting to do the boring stuff), meaning it’s hard to see if any of the bugs are about to attack you. At least the first dungeon’s boss isn’t so bad; only issue is that if its flame cannon hits a bomb, the bomb auto-targets you instead of moving in the trajectory it was hit like it does when you hit a bomb.

But then it gets worse. See, before you can access the second dungeon, you have to do a side-quest that involves going into a cave and killing sand-worms; it’s basically a mini-dungeon with the arena walls showing up and blocking all exits until all the enemies are defeated. The problem is with the sand-worms’ attacks: basically, one is a regular rock that goes in an arc into the air before coming down (you have to watch its shadow to see where its headed), and its second attack is a slightly bigger rock that looks and acts nearly identical but splits into smaller rocks that fly in random directions when it hits the ground, effectively giving it a much larger area of effect. However, these rocks have a much more sinister issue: they’re GUIDED. You can even test it yourself: stand to the lower-left of a sand-worm, wait for it to launch its rock, then dash to its lower-right and you can see the shadow visibly alter its trajectory to head towards your new location. At least with regular cheap shots, you can try to look out for them when you get back to where you died, but with this, it could be several attempts before you learn their true nature (and you have about the same amount of time to dodge both, its just that this one is much more deceptive about exactly when that is). Worse still is that the last sand-worm you have to defeat is on a pillar surrounded by smaller pillars you need to jump across, but they’re placed so close together that if you’re targeted by a rock, there’s no way you can avoid it without jumping down from those pillars and starting over (and if you’re hit, you’ll be knocked off of them and have to start over anyway). This is the real tragedy with this game: a piece of level design that could have been fun in a different circumstance is instead paired with unfair AI, making it literally impossible unless you have an AI-controlled ally to distract the sand-worm’s attacks (or vice versa since there’s no way to guarantee who it will attack).

While the game may not get quite that bad afterward, it still manages to find all new ways of being bad. First of all, after this point, almost every attack is guided; okay, fine. But when you reach the second dungeon, you’ll see it follows the same formula as the first: start off okay, but slowly spam more enemies during combat parts, and unlike the bugs (which only attacked one at a time), these enemies will gang up on you: one scorpion will dig its tail underground while another one will come at you from another angle to do a regular melee attack, and right when that’s over, another one will be starting up its attack. Honestly, the level design in this game isn’t a way to expand on what you’ve learned and offer a more clever challenge, but instead to compensate for the fact that you will (or should) have upgraded your equipment by then; the game all but has unavoidable damage as part of its foundation. If it isn’t clear by dungeon 2, it will be clear when you make it to dungeon 3 and 4 where you have to deal with the flying fish that shoot three guided projectiles at once, each one moving slightly faster than your top speed and not dissipating until after at least five seconds, at which point another fish will have fired more of them, meaning you literally won’t be able to counterattack them without getting hit since both of your attacks interfere with your movement. Or perhaps you’ll realize it during the mandatory side-quest before dungeon 5, where you have to fight six electric cats at once, who not only deal contact damage and drag you towards them when their guard is broken AND gang up on you with their attacks like the previous enemies, but with each attack that hits, they can inflict you with a status effect that stuns and deals damage to you at regular intervals, further opening you up to attacks that you might have been able to avoid (and when you make it to the latter half of dungeon 5, you’ll have to fight WAVES OF THEM). I get that the game was meant to be challenging, but unavoidable damage is never fun. Of course, the game’s challenge was never about avoiding attacks and countering during an opening; it’s about rushing forward and dealing as much damage as you can before you yourself are inevitably attacked; it’s about having enough attack power to get rid of problem enemies before they have a chance to do anything and having enough defense power to live through the attacks you had to ignore to kill the previous enemies; it’s about taking what could only work in a turn-based RPG and trying to force it into a real-time hack ‘n’ slash. Hell, there’s even a slug/snail boss between dungeon 2 and 3 that implies the devs think more HP = more difficult because, despite the boss being able to spawn little enemies to attack you, its pattern is far easier to dodge than the dungeon 2 boss’s pattern! As you may be able to guess, the only thing it has going for it is a bigger health bar. If any of you ever wondered why I don’t like RPG mechanics in action games, this game does a pretty good job of realizing my worst fears about the trend.

Because of the game’s approach to combat against regular enemies, the bosses are much more fair in comparison (dare I say even fun at times) since there’s only one enemy you have to look out for, meaning you actually have a chance of dodging them. Not to be outdone, the bosses have a few cheap hits in their arsenal. The dungeon 2 boss shoots a laser at the start of its second phase, which is not only guided and fast, but comes back around for another two attack attempts, leaving very little room for error even after you figure out how to dodge it. The rabbit hologram spawns so many projectiles so quickly that, again, it feels like the devs were trying to compensate for the fact that you can have AI allies during this part (though it’s also possible to use the walls to block projectiles, but then you also can’t hurt the boss and the boss can just jump over said walls). The monkey in dungeon 5 has a charge attack that requires, if not a frame-perfect dodge, one that’s pretty darn close (because again, with the attack being guided, dodging too early will just have the boss alter its trajectory), which might just make this boss the hardest one in the game. The whale boss at the end of dungeon 5 has the option of letting you choose which boss to kill first, but it deliberately obfuscates the objectively easier choice behind the same tells it uses to indicate attacks, meaning you’d only know about it if you’re slow or you read some dialogue after the fight is over. The final boss is actually one of the easier ones, but to compensate, it’s absurdly long (longer than those “best 5 out of 9” duels) to the point where you get a checkpoint when the boss is at half HP, and the second half of its second phase spawns little enemies that have their own attacks incongruous to the boss’s attacks.

To add insult to injury, one of the dream sequences goes from being just a cut-scene to a full-on walking simulator, but if you go the wrong path (out of the several ones available), the camera will slowly pan toward the end, then slowly pan back to your character, who is slowly walking backward before handing control back to you. Also, when you do stumble across the specific path the game wants you to go down, you’re sent back to the center of the map and have to do it three more times.

To add even more insult to injury, the game has a bad ending if you just do a casual play-through. It at least gives you a general idea of what to look for and where, but that area is really huge and empty, and you’re encouraged to explore it well before you reach the point where you can access what would get you the good ending.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this game. It does get some little things right, but just like when a platformer tries to be a hack ‘n’ slash, it doesn’t seem to understand why people like those elements since they’re all but ruined by the rest of the game.

P.S. Some of the side-quests even interfere with exploration: one of the mandatory ones between dungeon 2 and 3 has an enemy arena show up in a formerly-empty corner of the map (which, by the way, still doesn’t show itself until after you walk inside it).

MINOR LORE CRITICISM: I get that the protagonist can’t talk and doesn’t know sign language, but she can read and move her fingers, so why doesn’t she just spell out what she wants to say by making letters with her hands? How does nobody think to suggest this?

Next game:

One of those is the protagonist, yet they all look evil.

This is a metroidvania. You start off with a dodge-roll and a melee attack, but also a much faster ranged attack that always shoots straight. It feels like the game wasn’t designed around the player having a ranged attack since quite a few bosses can simply be pelted from afar while they attack the air. I think the only exceptions are the giant, the white dress lady, and the knight (who’s immune to arrows). Even the final boss was really easy (definitely easier than the knight). By the way, pushing select brings up the map, but doesn’t pause the game. However, if you push start, that pauses the game, and you can select an option to view the map from the pause menu while the game is paused.

This game has the opposite problem as the previous one: it’s just too dull. Most rooms, despite being pretty decently sized, only have three to zero enemies (some of which, again, can be pelted from afar with arrows or don’t react at all if you come at them from behind); even in the final area, things don’t get that tricky outside of the knight boss. Of course, just because a game is pretty dull overall doesn’t mean it can’t also have some cheap hits: various rooms will spawn enemies directly on top of you if you wait too long (like, for example, if you’re looking at the map after pushing select), and one of the areas will suddenly have a flurry of arrows shoot from the floor right when you get next to those floor tiles (at least those tiles are distinguished from normal ones, though). Also, there’s a transparent ghost dog placed in front of a bookshelf in a dark vertical section that can barely be seen; every time I went through that room I’d inevitably hit the dog and take damage because of how hard it is to see it.

Oh, and this one also has a bad ending, except there’s no indication of what you need to do differently (and at this point, I had explored 95% of the map and didn’t feel like retracing most of my steps just for the chance of stumbling across whatever I needed).

But yeah, most of the game is pretty dull and boring. Not recommended. Next game:

War has never been so much fun--oh wait, that's the tagline for a different game. Uh...war has never been so groovy.

This is a turn-based tactics game. Different units have different strengths and weaknesses, and many maps have properties that can be captured, some of which let you build more units. If you’ve ever played an Advance Wars game, you’ll feel right at home with these mechanics (and you’ll even recognize a few of the units as the blatant re-skins they are). There are three major differences between the Advance Wars games and this game, though:

1) COs are their own unit on the map. They’re strong against almost every unit and can capture properties. Likewise, their CO power is based on how many units they kill (instead of the army as a whole) and, when used, affect the area around them instead of the whole map. Needless to say, killing the CO automatically ends the match, replacing the Advance Wars “kill all units” victory condition. All of this helps some of the base vs. base missions be less repetitive since you often have the deck stacked against you and need to use your overpowered CO to help even the odds, or maybe the enemy CO is aggressive and you need to play the map more defensively.

2) Only neutral properties can be captured (but they can be captured in one turn, regardless of the health of the capturing unit); captured properties have to be defeated. They can be attacked by almost any unit and become neutral when defeated; likewise, they counterattack if they aren’t defeated, and unlike every other unit, their attack strength isn’t based on their health, instead being a fixed amount for each type of unit. They still can’t instigate an attack, though.

3) On top of usual advantages and disadvantages, all units (except COs) get an attack boost if certain conditions are met (though the conditions are different for each unit type). For example, Aeronauts get an attack boost if they’re on a mountain tile and dogs get an attack boost if their target is next to another dog. The game calls these “critical hits,” but if you’re familiar with how that term is used everywhere else, you’d understand why I’m avoiding calling them that.

Also, both COs and properties regain some health per turn.

Another noteworthy difference is that, for some missions, the opposing army has Fire-Emblem-style reinforcements show up on the border of the map (with reinforcement locations indicated by a road leading off the map). I don’t have much issue with these since it only happens if they don’t start with any bases, and they always appear from the same locations that the first couple waves spawn from (those first couple waves also appear far enough away that it isn’t much different from the enemy army buying them from a base). They do result in some of the harder missions in the game, especially since reinforcement locations can’t be blocked like in Fire Emblem (the units will just appear on the next unit over).

There are a bunch of minor differences, like certain units being infantry (and thus able to capture properties) unlike their Advance Wars counterparts, or like your mission ranking being based solely on how quick you win and not on how many lives you feed into the war machine, but those are better discovered during game-play than on a wordy internet post.

For the most part, the campaign is pretty solid. There are times you’ll have a tough mission immediately followed by one where you’ll get an S-rank on your first try, but the Advance Wars games aren’t a stranger to having a wonky difficulty curve, either. Really, the only parts of the main campaign that I didn’t like were when there’s a group of enemies standing still, waiting for you to reach a certain point on the map to move out. This is because, unlike the parts where you need to get a certain unit to a certain location to win, the threshold to trigger their advance isn’t indicated, nor is their any certainty of how many of the stationary units will be activated (it could be all of them, or there could be another trigger later on for them). This is especially egregious in the final mission: not only does the game introduce a mission-exclusive mechanic here that you need to plan your turns around, but it suddenly takes that mechanic away as soon as you move a unit into the zone that triggers the final wave of enemies (a zone that doesn’t even reach the end of the peninsula, by the way). In other words, not only are you at a disadvantage after having planned for something that didn’t happen, but now you also have to deal with the final set of enemies getting the drop on you. Oh, and did I mention that, for this mission only, you lose if even one of your units is killed? Yeah, this was the only mission I used a save point on since having to redo the same 17 not-that-difficult turns over again just for another chance at the game’s gotcha moment isn’t my idea of fun.

However, the campaign isn’t the only mode in the game: there’s also arcade mode and puzzle mode. Arcade mode is incredibly bland: it’s just five maps in a row, but they’re all symmetrical (save for giving the enemy an extra infantry or two to balance first turn advantage) and usually include a split path that the opponent completely ignores, meaning you need only send one or two infantry units over there to capture all the properties and overwhelm the enemy with high-cost units. I admit I played on normal mode, but if the campaign’s difficulty selection is anything to go by, that wouldn’t affect the game’s AI. Literally the only noteworthy part of arcade mode is that it’s the only part in the game (outside of 2-3 turns in one mission early in the campaign) that has weather effects, but they don’t have that big of an impact (does wind even do anything?).

In contrast, puzzle mode might be the best part of the game. Its entirely focused on pre-deployed missions that have to be cleared in one turn, so even if you lose, there isn’t much you have to redo. This mode also has some of the most difficult missions in the game, and I’m always up for a fair challenge. My main problem with this mode is that the solutions to a couple of these puzzles involve obscure effects of certain CO powers. For example, Emeric spawns a crystal next to himself that increases the defense of units in a 3-tile radius, but mages gain an attack boost when their defense is high enough (which normally only happens when they’re on a forest or mountain tile). Needless to say, this extra detail is rarely ever relevant in the campaign, but is crucial for Emeric’s puzzle mode missions. Nuru’s is a bit more sinister: while the description for Emeric’s power goes out of its way to tell you that it activates mages’ attack boost, the description for Nuru’s power makes absolutely no mention that the list of available units you can spawn is based on whether or not you own a property that can build said units (for example, if you want to spawn a warship, you need to own a dock first). The only way you’d figure this out is to infer it based on your play-through of the campaign. Beyond that, though, the worst thing it does is spam a bunch of red-herring units (both for your own army and the enemy), meaning you have to spend some time sifting through the mess before you can start solving the puzzle (I swear, these missions don’t necessarily get more difficult as you go, just more cluttered).

Lastly, there is a post-game mission that goes over what happens after you beat the final boss, but not only does it require 100 stars to access (I only had 88 after a casual playthrough of the campaign), it is also really long (A-rank turns is FOURTY EIGHT!) and kinda boring, especially when compared to the previous mission in the campaign. If you don’t have enough stars after finishing both the campaign and puzzle mode, I wouldn’t recommend grinding for more. It feels like the map was designed around being difficult to get an S-rank rather than being a decent challenge on its own.

Overall, this is a pretty good game, and I’d recommend it to those of you who like tactics games (and especially to Advance Wars fans). It even does a few things better than Advance Wars in my opinion. I still wouldn’t recommend playing arcade mode, though; that’s only for people who want a bit more lore or who prefer game-play loops over difficulty curves.

MINOR LORE CRITICISM: When you capture a property, a banner displaying the nation’s crest is unfurled on the building, and playing as the final boss (or post-game boss) in arcade mode is the only opportunity the purple army has to capture bases. However, the purple army’s banner is blank! Come on, why doesn’t Cacophony get a logo? That’s half the reason I even played arcade mode in the first place! Speaking of the final boss, she can possess one of your party members for a turn, and right before it happens, the character in question warns that it’s going to happen to them. Thing is, even though one of your units is a dog, the dog never actually does the attacking; it’s his bodyguards. Why don’t they just restrain the dog themselves when it happens to him, or if they also get possessed, why don’t they say something? They’re pretty talkative during the dog’s solo missions, but when it comes to the safety of their queen and her allies: nah, who cares, just let the dog try to warn them, and if the dog wants to usurp the throne, sure, just randomly side with the dog and kill your actual employer.

Next game:

How is it when compared to Blazing Firefox?

This is a run-and-gun platformer, similar to the Contra games. You can shoot in the 8 cardinal directions and can hold a button down to aim and shoot while standing still, and you can also do a forward roll by holding down and pushing the jump button. Not only does this continue to make it tricky to shoot down when you need to (since you have to jump and THEN push down), it also means you can’t drop down from thin platforms since that button combination is re-purposed for rolling.

If you read my post on Contra Re:Birth, you’d know I wasn’t a big fan of it, but this game is better than Contra Re:Birth in almost every way. Visual clutter is limited to when an enemy dies instead of having explosions for the sake of explosions. Enemies and other hazards don’t try to mimic or blend into the background; you can always see them coming. Foreground objects are rarely (if ever) used, meaning you can actually see the stage. Heck, if I remember correctly, you can even do short hops by tapping the jump button. Bosses are even better about conveying their attacks: sure there are still plenty of exceptions (like when the stage 2 mid-boss suddenly leaps forward, being the first time in the game you HAVE to use the roll to avoid damage, or when the stage 2 main boss shoots electricity on the ground which suddenly splits off into two more projectiles that travel along the ground), but you’ll usually be able to see attacks coming and react to them, which is always appreciated.

Unfortunately, one of my biggest issues with Contra makes a return in this game: segments where enemies constantly spawn in from the sides of the screen, especially during otherwise empty horizontal segments. I’ve never understood why modern games try to mimic this; in old games, it was a way to add “content” without spending precious storage space on actual level design, but nowadays that isn’t an issue, so it just comes across like the devs were too lazy to have actual enemy placement. There’s still plenty of real level design in the game, but that just makes the lazy parts stand out all the more.

Beyond that, there isn’t much noteworthy about the game. It does a decent job of having enemy variety without relying too much on introducing new stuff, which is always nice. There are three levels that have a mech suit in them, all of which can take a few hits before exploding (similar to the Ride Armor from Mega Man X or the tanks from Metal Slug), though each one has a different weapon, making them kinda gimmicky. The third one is the worst since it will overheat if you use its laser too much in a row, making you wait before you can fire it again. Can you imagine if a Contra game made your weapon overheat? The fan-base would be livid and the game would make everyone’s top 20 worst games of the year list.

Also, while the game is better at conveying attacks than Contra Re:Birth, it still has a bit to go. Notably, the giant gun mid-boss of stage 5 has doors on each side of the screen, and they indicate that an enemy will spawn by having a dim yellow light show up above the doors. Seems fine on paper, but when you have a giant gun pointing a laser-sight at you that gets electrified as an indication for when the gun will fire its actual harmful laser while also having machine gun enemies camping out in the upper corners that are also taking aim and firing at you (and also respawn after a bit if you kill them), those yellow lights become much harder to notice.

Overall, this game is okay. It does have its fair share of issues, but there’s also some fun to be had, even if it’s only around 6 levels long. It’s definitely more worthy of a ten dollar price tag than Contra Re:Birth.

EDIT: It’s actually seventeen dollars! …wait for a sale.

Next game:

I see the game had to be hastily re-rated in post. Sad thing is this was the best face-on scan I could find.

This is another metroidvania, though it’s modeled more on the vania than the metroid: level design is pretty flat (even in many vertical segments), so the game relies more heavily on enemy AI to add challenge. The problem is that, for the most part, enemies aren’t that tricky to deal with, either (especially if your level is high enough that you can kill the enemies before they have a chance to attack). Even if you do have a bad run and get hit a bunch of times, your massive health bar will still see to it that you make it to the next save room without dying. The only time standard enemies were ever a threat was in the final area; every other time I died, it was only to a boss. Heck, the game has a shop that sells equip-able items, but you can find better items as drops from the enemies in that same area! I admit I played on normal mode, though.

While you’re given your standard weapon shortly after starting the game, you’ll find other equip-able weapons during your journey, each with varying degrees of input delay. However, unlike its inspiration, your weapons also gain experience and levels, so there’s little reason to switch from your responsive starting weapon. You also have a magic meter and have to equip whichever spell you want to use, but while these don’t level up like your normal weapons, the first one you get is still the best one since it’s a proper long-range projectile that shoots straight.

Not long into the game, you find an item that lets you stop time for a brief period of…well, time. I really like the way its introduced because the room starts off with time stopped permanently (indicated by everything being sepia), and the only way to reach the item in question is to jump on the frozen enemies, letting you know–without using words–that stopping time lets you use any enemy as a platform at the cost of being unable to attack them, including bosses. It’s a perfect example of how level design can be used in place of traditional tutorials, and more games could benefit from proper implementation of this design philosophy. My only issue with it is that the time-stop mechanic is very rarely used in the game, to the point where I had forgotten about it completely by the first few times it was needed to progress or to avoid a boss’s attack (only finally getting it in my head right before I got the double-jump ability). My first death was against the second boss, and it was mainly because its spinning flame attack is the first time you absolutely need to use the time-stop to avoid an attack, but it’s about a good hour away from when you actually get the time-stop item. I also feel like the time-stop power was used as an excuse to give certain attacks (especially boss attacks) quicker wind-up animations, making them significantly harder (if not outright impossible) to avoid without stopping time, especially when you realize that attacking while on the ground locks your movement until the animation is over. Of course, once you realize that’s an option, even bosses (including the final boss) become pretty easy since you can just stop time whenever they attack and move out of the way at a much slower pace than you’d normally need.

Lastly, I want to point out that although the game has a choice between two endings after you beat the final boss, the endings are barely any different from each other (just with a couple lines changed here and there). This is despite the game implying one of the choices leads to additional content (namely the “go into the past and fight demons” choice).

Overall, I don’t know if I’d recommend this game. It does have some interesting ideas, but it’s also pretty dull for the most part. Bosses can be challenging, but only if you stop yourself from using the time-stop power (or forget about it like I did). If you’re interested, wait for a sale. Next game:

Yeah, I know it was free on Epic, but I missed it because I was on vacation when they started their “one free game a day” thing.

Anyway, this is a tactics game with roguelike elements. You start with three units, each with a different attack, and have a set number of turns to defend yourself (along with nearby buildings and sometimes mission-specific units). Your units heal after each battle, but the buildings’ health bar maintains its value throughout your play-through (however, it’s possible to buy back lost building HP between each set of missions). What helps make the game stand out from other tactics games is that enemies telegraph their next attacks at the end of their turn (even reinforcement spawn points are telegraphed the turn beforehand), so even if you can’t kill the enemy unit that turn, you may be able to push it to the next tile over so that its attack misses. However, sometimes there isn’t a way to avoid every attack from enemies, especially since not only are there often more than three enemies to deal with, but one of the earliest foes can trap its target in a web before telegraphing its attack, so if it targets one of your units, said unit won’t be able to move that turn (but can still attack).

I think my biggest issue with the game is how long-term everything is, particularly the building HP. Because of this, the game can’t ever be too difficult or it risks running into the typical roguelike problem of “how was I supposed to know that would happen?” and forcing a full restart because of something the player couldn’t react to. Then again, it seemed like the game’s idea of a difficulty curve is to spawn even more units at once, meaning there’s an even lower chance you’ll be able to avoid all damage to buildings (let alone your own units), so it probably does that anyway if you keep playing long enough (you unlock the final mission after the second set of missions, and its difficulty scales to wherever you are in the game). I played on normal mode and was able to beat the game on my first try.

Overall, I guess this game could be worth a dollar or two for its interesting concept, but I would like to see its mechanics used in a game with more hand-crafted, short-term missions. Next one:

I’m not sure if calling this a metroidvania gives an accurate idea of how the game plays, so I’ll call it a MotherLoad-like. The game has a side view with fall damage, and much of the game-play involves digging down into a fairly wide mine shaft, collecting minerals to bring back up and sell so you can afford upgrades. Like the first SteamWorld Dig, this game is also a platformer: you start off with a jump and a wall jump, only getting the jet-pack much later on. Because of this, you have to be a little careful with how you approach some of the minerals so you don’t fall into an air pocket, unable to get back up since you can only swing the pick-axe while standing on ground. I did take issue with the jumping physics, though: it’s kinda like Super Mario World in that if you let go of forward in mid-air, you keep moving forward, but as soon as you push backward, your movement shifts in the other direction, making it hard to fall straight down without a wall next to you.

The game does have some enemies spread throughout the mine shaft, though it’s definitely slow to start; it took until I reached the eastern temple (a good 1/3rd into the game at least) for the difficulty to start picking up, even with the Blood Quest upgrade equipped (though I admit I played on normal mode). Unfortunately, part of what makes that area of the game so difficult is that the spear enemies have a really quick melee attack (there’s literally no telegraphing for it; it just happens suddenly) that they can use before you kill them, making them really annoying to kill since you can only get one hit in before they have a chance to counterattack. Other than that, the temple is pretty well designed: the lava drops and bomb birds help add some challenge to the game, and the bomb birds can even be knocked above you to get minerals stuck in the ceiling (above where your pick-axe can reach). There are even parts where the mine-shaft becomes horizontal (instead of straight down) with the floor being lava, expanding on the game’s platformer side while still having plenty of minerals to look for.

I did have some issues with the game. That first third is really dull (on par with Momodora), the game’s “secrets” are just fake walls that cover up either axe-able dirt or an empty path, and the fire golems can’t be killed but are really slow, meaning most of your time with them is just spent waiting for them to shamble out of your way.

Back to something I liked: the bosses were pretty good. The first game only had one boss, but this one has three (even starting off with one). The second boss was pretty annoying since it would teleport after attacking, and when it was low on health, bright fireballs would shoot out of marked tiles and blend into the bright background, making it that much harder to chase the boss after it teleports. My least favorite one might just be the final boss, though: it shoots out waves of bullets and sometimes charges at you, meaning you need to make good use of your jet-pack, but it also summons dirt patterns, and since you STILL can’t use the pick-axe in mid-air by this point, it’s way too easy to get trapped between the new dirt pattern and the boss charging at you. The combination is a solid concept, but it needed some polish on its execution.

Overall, this game is okay. It has some good ideas, but the first third is pretty dull and the bosses could use a bit of polish. Get it on sale.

EDIT: MINOR LORE CRITICISM: There’s exactly one line where the game accidentally refers to Shiners by the wrong name. At first, I thought it might be trying to distinguish between different types or something, but it goes back to calling them Shiners for the rest of the game.

Next game:

Yet another metroidvania. This one actually calls itself an “Igavania,” and I’m considering humoring that label–not as a re-branding, but as a subgenre to metroidvanias that refers to the more vania-inclined ones like this game. I know I don’t have enough clout for that definition to spread to everyone on this site, let alone actually establish it in the popular conscience, but it will help me to distinguish the Oris from the Timespinners when I make a post about another metroidvania.

So yeah, this is an “Igavania.” You collect different weapons and have to choose between slow animations or small weapon hit-boxes (even smaller than what Castlevania games normally have since at least the tiny weapons in those games would still cover half of your height; here, bats can slip between where your knife would go for standing attacks and ducking attacks). Also, despite the sprawling, interconnected maps, most of the level design is pretty flat and dull (mainly consisting of either flat ground or slopes) and relies more on enemy AI to add challenge. While enemies usually do a decent job of telegraphing their attacks, it can still be hard to avoid them since ATTACKING STILL LOCKS YOU IN PLACE! How are people okay with this mechanic?? Even Mighty No. 9 got this part right! Yes, it’s possible to interrupt your attack animation with a back-dash, but you’re only told about this during loading screens! Plus, that’s the only way to interrupt your attack; what if you need to jump or duck? Sure, it is possible to interrupt the back-dash with a jump or duck, but at that point, why not cut out the middle-man and let me jump and duck from the get-go? Also, there’s no forward-dash, so if you’re facing the wrong way, you’re just screwed.

To be fair, this one is a bit more level-design-inclined than the other Igavanias I played recently. It starts off subtle with the Shovel Armors’ attack being a projectile thrown in a small arc: you can avoid it by ducking if you’re on a flat plane, but that won’t work if the enemy is below an incline. Later on, in the second half of the library (after you get the laser-teleport ability), it gets more ambitious: there’s this one hall that has Medusa-Head-re-skins, but there are also some small spike-pits you need to watch out for. There’s also this one vertical room where the bottom is covered in spikes and the lowest platform has a buzz-saw rotating around it, but the next ledge up has a guitar enemy blocking your path, so you need to jump up and attack it while also avoiding the rotating saw and spikes below. That might just be my favorite part in the game. And you wanna know how the game follows this up in the next area? It ends. Right when the game was starting to break its sub-subgenre conventions, too. Oh well.

But yeah, beyond brief, rare moments like those, the challenge is about learning enemy tells and dodging their attacks. You’ll likely get hit the first few times since, on your first try, you won’t know for sure what kind of attack the animation will lead to, but I guess that’s just a given in this genre. Also, when that’s all the game has, it can get a little repetitive. Even bosses suffer from this: the final boss isn’t any more difficult than the first boss or any boss in between, in either learning attack tells or dodging them. Heck, the dragon boss right before the final area is literally just a larger version of an earlier dragon enemy with maybe one or two new attacks, and as such, isn’t that much more difficult to kill than its normal enemy counterpart.

And to top it all off, we’ve got another bad ending that gives no direction on how to get the good one. With all these games having bad bad endings, I’ll compare them to one that did the bad ending trope right: Portrait of Ruin. Not only does the game tell you what item you need in order to get the good ending, tell you which area it’s in, and tell you what you need to do with it to get the good ending, but it does this before you even have access to the area in question, let alone the final boss. That way, you know to be looking out for this item in that area instead of aimlessly wandering around whatever unexplored branches of the map remain. The area in question even has actual content, unlike that part in Cross Code. In comparison, this game regresses to the likes of Aria of Sorrow and Harmony of Dissonance, where all you get is a subtle hint that there’s a secret final boss and a better ending, and even then, only after you beat the game normally. I hope Order of Ecclesia isn’t like this, too.

Overall, this game is okay. I can kinda see why people like it, but it doesn’t really have much of a difficulty curve or build on its mechanics that much over the course of the game. Wait for a good sale if you’re interested. Next game:

Is voxel art really less demanding than more complex shapes that consist of fewer polygons? I don't remember any PS1 games looking like this.

This is by far the worst game I played with Game Pass. It looked like it could’ve been a hidden gem based on the trailer, but it’s actually an extremely bland beat ‘em up. There are only, like, five different types of enemies at best, and you’ll only be seeing two of them for most of the game (one far more than the other at that). Plus, there’s very little level design outside of stair placements, so the majority of the game is spent fighting the same “rush at you and do a melee attack” enemy on flat ground with the only variation being how many enemies are being spammed at you this time. Seriously, there’s so little to this game, it could be procedurally generated and not make much difference. Heck, sometimes the enemies can’t even jump, so you can just stand there shoot them dead from slightly higher up. Oh, and if the game still wasn’t easy enough, dying doesn’t reset anything in the level (not even boss HP); you just get teleported back to the last checkpoint with full health.

I was ready to give up out of boredom after beating the fourth level, but then I decided to skip to the last one (all levels are unlocked from the start) just to see if it did anything different, and I was impressed to see some actual variety for once. It starts off simple (of course it does) by reintroducing an enemy type I only saw before on the first level: the bomb throwers (though they always throw the bombs at a fixed distance, meaning you can stand right in front of them while attacking and be perfectly safe). The ranged-weapon enemies have a level-exclusive gun whose bullets stick to their target for a second or two before exploding, so you gotta do a bit more than just walk around those bullets. There’s even a slightly different melee-attacking enemy in the form of slimes. However, the most notable difference are the addition of pillars that have scythes rotating around them. Yup: it took nine levels, but the game finally has some actual level design. There’s even this one part where the only way to reach a chest is to jump over some spikes (before this point, the jump button is pretty much only used for climbing stairs), and when you make it there, there’s a projectile-shooting enemy off in the distance aiming at you, so you need to use the chest as cover and pop out to counterattack when the wave of bullets goes past you. It’s a good example of what the game could have been.

I then decided to play the semi-final level, but unlike the final one, this really is just more of the same and little else: mostly dull rooms with the same two enemy types spammed throughout it. The only real difference with this one is that the boss has a shield that takes very little damage from your weapons; what you’re supposed to do is go around the arena and activate objective markers. This is something you wouldn’t know to do since they’re different for each level and normally shown to you at the beginning of the segment (the beginning of boss fights just shows the boss and says “defeat the boss”); otherwise, they’re only indicated by a little yellow dot on the HUD.

Not recommended. The only thing good I can say about the game overall is that it’s better at conveying elevation than Cross Code (though that’s not exactly a high bar to reach). Even the hit-boxes are off because there were plenty of times an enemy was right in front of me, but swinging my sword did nothing to them. Next game:

I was under the impression that this was a tactics game, but it’s really more of a visual novel with tactics elements. You’ll be spending the majority of your time reading text and making dialogue choices, and when you do get into a battle, it’s less about making the combat interesting at all and more about just being another potential consequence of your VN choices. With the exception of the final battle (and one supposed-to-lose battle), I won every single combat segment on my first try with very little strategy. There’s a bit of an element of strategy to the VN parts since you need to make sure you have enough food to make it to your next destination, but that also doesn’t have much of an impact either due to how many opportunities you have to restock (and how little consequence there is for running out for a few days, even including long term consequences). There’s an icon for morale, but this only affects how much “willpower” your units have in battle, and that stat is only used for adding a unit to your movement or an extra bit of damage to your attacks, so again, it doesn’t have much impact even if you let it drop to its lowest point.

Here’s all the combat mechanics. Each unit has armor and health; when attacking a unit’s health, damage is dealt equal to the attacker’s health minus the target’s armor; if the number is zero or negative, damage remains at one but now has to rely on a steadily decreasing percent chance to hit. It’s also possible to attack a unit’s armor, and the damage dealt is equal to the unit’s armor-break stat. Also, unless one side only has one unit left, turn order always dictates that one of your units moves, then one of the enemy’s units moves. Also, if one of your units dies in battle, it gets “injured,” which is a 1-3 point penalty to its max health that doesn’t go away unless you rest for a day per point-penalty (which costs one food per day). Interesting on paper, but the game never does anything with those mechanics. Almost every battle takes place on the same size-and-shape grid with no unique tiles (it may look different, but it acts the same); the only exception was at this one optional ruins near the beginning that had some holes on the battle arena, but that still didn’t matter much since you only fight the same 2-3 enemy types for the majority of the game: melee, ranged, and stronger melee. Seriously, the whole game is like this. I never even had to rest away my injuries to keep my winning streak up. It’s even worse than Momodora in regards to being really dull.

The only exception was for what I can only assume is the final boss because of how absolutely absurd of a difficulty spike it is and how many rules it changes. First, the boss has more health and armor than any other unit in the game, which is expected. Second, each time it moves, it automatically heals health and armor on top of whatever attack it does. Annoying, but still manageable. Here’s where things get nuts, though: you can’t kill the boss by normal means; if its health reaches zero, it just heals a third of its health back. The only way to kill the boss is to break its armor completely, then use a special item that can only be held by one of your units, so you’d better hope it doesn’t get another move right before that unit’s turn or you’ll need to re-break its armor and wait for the turns to cycle back around. This also means that if the unit in question dies, you automatically lose (as opposed to other missions where it didn’t matter who died, just which army was the last one standing). Ah, but even if you successfully use that item when its guard is broken, the game won’t just let you finish the boss off right then because that wouldn’t be enough of a difficulty spike. Instead, the game transitions into a second battle, healing your units and giving the enemy a new set of units, while also completely healing the boss (health and armor). However, there’s yet one more change, and it’s the one that finally made me quit: for the first time in the game, attacking an enemy (the final boss, in this case) instantly gives it another move. This means that when you try to break its armor, it will not only immediately heal that armor back, but it will also attack you, dealing significant damage to your unit’s health and lowering its attack power in the process (if not outright killing the unit in question). You don’t even get a checkpoint between the two battles, so losing the second one means you have to redo the first one again.

Absolutely not recommended, regardless of what you look for in games. Last one:

This is a first-person shooter, but the gimmick is that the speed of enemies and bullets is directly related to how fast you’re moving (whether you’re walking or just changing the camera angle), kinda like Super Mario Bros: Time And Place, or maybe that one part in Braid. The game claims that time only moves when you do, but even if you aren’t doing anything, time will still move forward slowly (just look at the bullets for proof).

It’s definitely an interesting concept, but the game needs a radar or something because most of your deaths will be the result of being attacked from off-screen by enemies you never knew were there. One of the earliest levels (the melee weapon tutorial) is also one of the hardest because the arena you start in is so small, you barely have enough time to turn around and see that there are three enemies behind you before they’re too close for you to avoid all their attacks (you die in one hit, by the way). It’s not just about knowing that they’re there, either: you then have to figure out how and where in that tiny arena to position yourself so that you can attack the enemies without getting blindsided by the others and killed again.

Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the game also really likes to spawn in more waves of enemies after you kill some of the ones present at the start. See, enemy spawn points are only indicated by doorways leading into a white void, but not only are these places hidden in alcoves, spawned enemies can shoot you before their model finishes forming. Plus, enemies usually spawn a couple feet in front of the door, giving you less time to react (especially since other enemies are spawning simultaneously elsewhere).

Overall, this game is okay. Like Into the Breach, it may be worth a couple bucks for the concept and the few challenging levels that don’t have any cheap hits, but it could still use plenty of polish.

P.S. You know that tree cutting game where you have to pick which side of the tree to cut down to avoid branches? That’s a mini-game in this game, so if you have this one, you don’t have to buy the other one. ☺

After LIMBO and Monochroma, you’d think I’d be better at figuring out which platformers are trying to copy that style BEFORE I get them, but I still ended up with this game. It’s my own fault, I know.

  • Black The Fall

    3 hours playtime

    5 of 14 achievements

This is a LIMBO clone: technically a platformer, but more focused on atmosphere than game-play, with said game-play mainly consisting of switch-hunts or riddle-style puzzles. There’s almost always some new gimmick being introduced and abandoned, so the game never really builds on any of its mechanics (most of the time, the biggest challenge is figuring out what can be interacted with in the first place). The closest it ever got to building on an established mechanic was: after it introduced the ability to get your robo-dog to lead searchlights, there was a part where you had to command the dog to move into the background (so the light was pointing away from the path rather than being blocked by a ceiling like before), but then right afterward, the game makes you jump on a platform that’s literally the same color as the wall due to both being in pitch-black shadow. This game even has some input issues, where you’ll figure out what to do, be unable to do it, then look up a walk-through only to see that you had the solution the whole time; you just didn’t push the exact right button at the exact time the game wanted you to (namely, jumping on the bar hanging the dead bodies while on the paddle-boat, getting the robo-dog to jump on the yellow crusher (if it’s too low, the cursor counts as being inside the press instead of on top of it), and getting on the bus near the end). Plus, typical for this genre of “puzzle” games: it has logic that doesn’t make sense. Is a giant shoot-on-sight robot scanning the area? Just go back the way you came for a few seconds and it’ll turn around and leave! Lastly, to add insult to injury, the game even has that cliche where your character gets injured in a cut-scene and the game slows your movement down a bunch to represent this.

Oh, and it doesn’t even save your progress per-checkpoint, so if you have to stop playing, there’s a good chance you’ll have to redo a bunch of sections you’ve already gotten past.

Not recommended.

Not long after I made my post about Total War: Shogun 2, I was telling my brother about how I didn’t like the game, and his reaction was to buy me this for my birthday. Eh, I gave it a shot, but I’m still not a 4X fan.

  • Sid Meier's Civilization VI

    13 hours playtime

    4 of 246 achievements

I already explained much of what I don’t like about the 4X genre in my Total War post, and again, if you actually like the genre, you’ll probably like this game, too, so this will mainly just be a quickfire post about differences between the two and what I think of them.

First thing to note is that loading times are just as long, though you won’t have to sit through it as often since there’s no shifting back and forth between battle mode and management mode: everything is turn-based. Once you start playing, you’ll notice there’s no WASD support and no way to turn it on in the options. I thought that was standard for PC games that use keyboard and mouse simultaneously, but apparently not for this game.

I played through the tutorial, and similar to Total War, it doesn’t go over half of what’s actually in the game, instead making players look stuff up in the in-game encyclopedia as they go. Then again, some stuff isn’t even touched on there, like warmonger penalties: practically all it says about them is that they exist. I would have at least preferred a simple “warmonger penalties make it harder to forge alliances and trade with other nations” or whatever it does. I also felt mislead about how the tutorial described some things, like the barracks: I distinctly remember the VA saying that it would make my army stronger, but the encyclopedia said nothing about actually increasing stats of my units (not even the units made in the city with the barracks).

Plus, rather than being broken up into separate chunks like Total War’s tutorial, the tutorial is a solid THREE HOURS with no option to stop and resume from where you were (there’s no save option in the pause menu during the tutorial, and I found out the hard way that it doesn’t use auto-save, either). I also encountered a bug where my scout discovered a barbarian outpost and a natural wonder at the same time, causing both voice clips to play over each other.

As for the main game, I do think it’s much better than Total War since no action is reliant on percent chances; in fact, just selecting one of your units and hovering the mouse over another allegiance’s unit will tell you exactly how the battle will play out. Then again, it doesn’t seem like you can use non-combat units against enemy civilizations (which is what Total War used percent chances for). However, there’s still randomness to the game, and that’s in how the map is set up. Sure, you can pick from several different types of maps, but the game applies a random seed to them when you start (though you have the option to change the seed ID as well).

Besides the fully-turn-based game-play, I think the biggest difference between this and Shogun 2 is that, in this game, you have to settle your own cities, even down to your very first one (whereas Shogun 2 had cities in fixed locations on the hand-crafted map, and you never have the option to build more cities). Personally, I’m not a fan of this since it takes the already-long-term game-play of 4Xs and drags it out further by starting you off with just one city (meaning you can only have one unit queued at a time, and each individual unit takes several turns AT MINIMUM to be built), then you wait for its population to grow enough so you can build another settler, then wait several turns for it to be finished so you can spend another several turns moving to a decent location to found a second city so that you can FINALLY queue two units at once, except the new city has a turn penalty for building units at first, so they can take twice to thrice as long to make. I feel like the “just one more turn” mentality comes 100% from the fact that it takes so damn long for anything to get done in this game. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure soldiers in Shogun 2 only took two to three turns to build, giving that game another point in its favor.

Overall, I think I did like it a bit more than Shogun 2, but I still haven’t been won over by the 4X genre. Honestly, I’m kinda surprised there wasn’t something similar to the Scenario Mode in the SNES port of Sim City, where you’re given a pre-set map, leader, and civilization, and are tasked with accomplishing a very specific objective in a specific amount of time (like, for example, “defend your capital city for 10 turns” and it starts you off at war with enemy units nearby). Not only could the easier scenarios serve as bite-sized tutorials (fixing my issue with the game not letting you stop in the middle of them), but the harder ones would provide the exact kind of structured challenge I like and maybe even serve as a fun distraction for long-term fans.

P.S. I also had some issue with input: I had archers (who have a range of two) exactly two units away from an enemy unit, but when I right-clicked on the enemy, they instead moved next to it, spending their entire turn because that spot had a high movement cost.

P.P.S. I guess another major difference is that other civilizations aren’t so quick to declare war on you (likely since there are other ways to win besides “conquer the other nations”), with the game even having a “denounce” mechanic that has other nations forecast their intent to find an excuse to declare war on you instead of just having it happen abruptly.

Wheee!

That's equal to 2000 Mega Wings at least!

This is a bullet hell shmup. You have a few ships to pick from at the start, each of which have slightly different guns and massively-undersized hit-boxes, then you pick between two bombs (which the game calls “reflects” because shut up) before being thrown into the game. The A button fires your bullets for a second or two, the X button is for rapid fire, and the B button uses one of your aforementioned bombs (which, like other bullet hell shmups, not only damages enemies, but also clears the screen of all enemy projectiles). Most enemies just drop star medallions (points), but you also have your standard shot power-up and +1 bombs.

From what I could tell, the standout feature in this game is that it supports 4-player simultaneous play, which is why I played it before the first one (most other bullet hells, and even normal shmups, only go up to 2 players). Of course, being a bullet hell, having three (or even two) other players and their shots on screen just makes it that much more chaotic, especially once you realize that two of the available ships are blue (I lost my place at least a couple times).

But besides that, it’s a pretty standard bullet hell. You have to get through waves of projectiles that would be impossible to avoid with a normal-sized hit-box (and even then, there are times where I’m pretty sure the only way to avoid dying is to use a screen-clearing bomb), dying resets your gun to its weakest and your bombs to 2, and on top of instantly re-spawning when you die, you have infinite continues (so even the least skilled among us will be able to beat the game). If you like bullet hell shmups, chances are you’ll like this game, too. Honestly, my biggest gripe is with the cut-scenes: the text only barely shows up long enough for you to read it before automatically progressing to the next bit of text. Why couldn’t it just stay still and let us progress the dialogue on our own? This is a home console port, for crying out loud!

Recommended.

I got to play on my brother’s Switch again, and I can confirm that the vintage Joy-Con D-Pads still suck (they may even be worse than the PS1 D-Pad).

That boy doesn't look like a ghoul to me.

Anyway, this is a platformer, but you can’t short-hop; every press of the jump button sends you to your maximum jump height, which is never a good thing for precision platformers. You also have a double jump that’s way shorter than the initial jump (kinda like Super Lucky’s Tale) which the game tries to hint to the player without a tutorial, but rather than do this by having a vertical wall that’s just out of the initial jump’s reach, it does so by having a spike pit that you just barely can’t make it across in one jump. This has the opposite intended effect, as it makes players think it’s just a hard jump at first instead of having their mind go straight to “maybe there’s a double jump?” To be fair, the game also has a mechanic where you throw spears at walls to create another platform to get over them, but the game could always start the player off with zero of them and give them to the player afterward (plus, this jump is before the spear tutorial anyway). At least there’s no forward momentum, so letting go of forward stops you right where you are.

Honestly, this game makes a ton of beginner-developer mistakes like that. There are several areas where you have to jump across moving platforms, but the platforms desync, changing the timing (or worse, making you wait for them to sync back up). The game has locked doors where you have to find a key or hit a switch to get past them, but then randomly has one level (and ONLY one) where the only way to open the door is to kill all the enemies (and of course it never tells you that), and what’s worse is that there’s one enemy in that segment that can’t be reached without getting hit TWICE, draining your health bar to its lowest point. World four has web sprites used as background that look very similar to the web sprites that can block your way and need to be cut with the sword, then proceeds to end with an autoscrolling segment where a high-HP enemy blocks your path, likely forcing you to the back, then proceeds to have a spinning spike platform that can only be safely crossed if you’re near the front! Oh, and the game doesn’t autosave at boss stages, so if you stop playing at that autoscrolling level, you’ll have to redo the level beforehand. Some enemies have an animation before they shoot, but then there are the bowmen in world 5 that just look at you until suddenly there’s an arrow speeding toward you. Hell, the game even has genuine glitches that show up in a casual playthrough: the green axe-wielding giants sometimes get stuck on the floor, letting you just stand there and kill them; items spawned by enemies can get launched into the ceiling or even just randomly stop falling in midair; blocks that you need in order to progress can get caught in the ceiling and CLIP THROUGH THE ELEVATOR, falling back down to a point where you are literally unable to go back and retrieve it, forcing you to go on without it and take damage to progress:

And then there’s the final boss. At first, it doesn’t seem too bad: its pattern can be learned just fine, and even if it also doesn’t have any warning animation for its projectiles, you can attack it during its third phase where it’s bringing hazards down from above. However, even the boss’s pattern desyncs: rather than swap attacks after a set number of animations, it swaps after a set amount of time, so the first time it stops moving back and forth and starts shooting at you, it will be on the edge of the arena, but the next time, it may suddenly stop in the middle when you’re trying to jump over it and you’ll take damage (or it may stop at the end, but still go in that direction when it gets back to that part in its pattern, throwing off your timing).

So yeah, this game is highly NOT recommended. It has effort put into it (but then again, what game doesn’t?), but it makes way too many beginner mistakes to be very enjoyable.

I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with retail games this year, so I figured it’s about time to make a post I’ve been sitting on for a few months now:

This is an action platformer. However, instead of the usual jump arc, you reverse gravity, similar to VVVVVV. Controls are responsive, game-play is fast-paced, and each level is only one screen long, so just like N++, every hazard is visible from the start, meaning there are no cheap deaths. However, unlike N++, there’s no forward momentum or weird jumping physics you have to get used to: forward is forward, and letting go of forward stops you (though there is a 4-frame delay between letting go of forward and your character stopping, like in Celeste). Unfortunately, there are only 40 levels, and the first three are just five-second tutorials. In fact, my only real complaint is that the game is pretty easy; it takes until level 8 for the game to start getting remotely tricky, and the difficulty doesn’t go up much further from there. If you reach a level that kills you a few times before you win, don’t be surprised if you clear the next few on your first try. I can also start to see why level design isn’t as highly regarded by others as it is with me, because this game doesn’t have much variation with how its hazards are used; the only level that really makes you rethink things is 39, where the guided-projectile spawners are placed in a more open environment rather than a hall, meaning there are far fewer safe areas and you can’t just rush through without thinking.

Even with its flaws, I highly recommend this game. After all, it’s a free Flash game, so you only have your time to lose. I’m sure for most of you, this will just be a 10 minute distraction before you go back to more substantial titles and forget about it, but for me, it’s one of the most polished, well designed games I’ve played all year.

P.S. There’s also a watermark in the lower-left corner of the game at all times. It usually isn’t too big of an issue, but there are times where it can make it hard to see where a platform is.


There’s also a sequel:

It’s basically more of the same. Same controls, same mechanics, same number of levels, same enemies; even the first three stages are tutorials for the same things as in the first game. The biggest change is that, instead of stone pillars that hit the ground every second, there are laser beams that shoot across the room, and they take far longer to disappear, which noticeably slows down the game’s pace. There are also teleporters; falling on one shoots you out of another. However, it isn’t uncommon for there to be four (or even six) teleporters in one level, and there isn’t any indication which one teleports you to which other one until after it happens. Plus, the game has a tendency to have teleporters spawn you right over spikes, so the level design is cheaper than the first game. Aside from this, the game manages to be easier than the first one. There are a couple new hazards, like diagonally-moving spike balls and the dogs that stay still until you get close, but you’re not going to find anything like level 39 in the first game.

Overall, this isn’t bad, but it’s definitely weaker than the first installment. It’s also a free Flash game, so it might still be worth playing, but if the retail version continues in this direction, I’d definitely recommend sticking with the free Flash games. (plus, the retail version zooms in the screen so you can’t see the whole level at once, giving it a blatant disadvantage over the free games)


P.S. There is technically a Gravity Duck 3, but even if you didn’t check the uploader’s username, it’s apparent that it was made by someone else. The game-play is much slower, everything has annoying sound effects attached to it, and when you die, the annoying music stops and you have to click the retry button manually, at which point the game takes far longer to reload the stage than the other two games. However, the worst part is that, when you beat a level and the next one loads, the arrow keys (what you use to move) will highlight the web-link buttons, so you have to click inside the game each time if you don’t want to activate those links accidentally. Despite also being a free Flash game, that (combined with the slower pace and annoying sounds) made me give up, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

When I first saw the trailer for Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, I wondered how trash like that could find the success that it did. I know that game has other inspirations, but I think I found its precedent regarding its mainstream success:

  • Dork Souls III

    13 hours playtime

    9 of 43 achievements

This is a hack ‘n’ slash. Right off the bat, the game pissed me off by assigning the lock-on to R3 of all things. It’s not like this is a twin-stick shooter or anything; the right stick is only used for camera control. There’s also no option to remap controls, so you just have to get used to it. The game even assigns combat actions to the shoulder buttons: R1 does a light attack, R2 does a heavy attack, and L1 blocks. Despite this, the face buttons have crucial actions assigned to them as well: the B button is for dodging and running, and the X button uses an item.

My biggest issue with the game is that its combat is designed completely backwards. Normally, games are designed so that whatever hazards show up or whatever the enemies do, the player always has a way to counter it. In this game, the reverse is true: no matter what you do, the enemies always have a way to counter it. What’s worse is that the results of combat can be completely random, so there’s no way to learn from failure and get good at the game. If you try to block an attack, sometimes it will work and give you an opening to attack, but other times you’ll get stunned (even thought your stamina bar was full) and the enemy will have an opening to attack you. EDIT: Speaking of the stamina bar, sometimes, successfully blocking a hit only takes away a little bit of stamina so you can combo the enemy, while other times, nearly the whole thing gets taken away from one hit so you can only attack once before having to back off. Sometimes the enemy will only attack once, while other times, that exact same pre-attack animation will lead to a full combo, with each consecutive attack coming quickly and closer to you, meaning even if you dodge away from the enemy, you’ll still get hit because your dodge move doesn’t go far enough. You could try to dodge past the enemy and get behind it, but sometimes, the enemy will immediately turn to face you and continue its combo, hitting you before your dodge animation finishes and trapping you into the rest of the combo. Oh, and on the off chance you do land a hit and can start your own combo, enemies can sometimes break out of your combo and attack you, and since you can’t interrupt your attack animation to dodge (seriously, why do so many hack ‘n’ slash games do this?), there’s literally no way to avoid damage when that happens. No joke: it is a much more viable strategy to run past most enemies than to try to engage in this laughable excuse for a combat system.

It gets worse when you have to fight more than one enemy at a time. The combat is designed around only fighting one enemy at a time, and for the most part, it is possible to lead one enemy away from a group to pick them off one by one. However, there are several times where the game forces you to fight multiple enemies at once, and due to the random, asynchronous nature of the enemy AI, it’s only really comparable to something like Rockman 2 Neta; technically doable, but there’s so much randomness at play that it can’t really be considered skill-based.

Oh, but that’s not all. The game also has a habit of hiding its enemies so they can surprise you and land cheap shots. I knew I was going to hate this game when I went down the first staircase in the first level after the Firelink Shrine, locked on to the skeleton dog, and immediately got shot in the back by an archer who was hidden on a ledge behind the wall. For those taking notes, this is NOT how to use level design to increase difficulty; it’s comparable to a 2D game using foreground objects to hide hazards. This is far from the only time the game does stuff like this, too: look forward to having an enemy run in and hit you from the corner where you couldn’t see it (bonus points if you can’t even lock onto it before triggering it), or for a seemingly empty path to have skeleton dogs fall from the trees. The point I gave up was against the Abyss Watchers because they so perfectly encapsulate everything wrong with the game’s combat: its reach is too far to dodge away from, it turns to face you if you dodge behind it, it can break out of your combos, it can easily stun you if you try to block, and if you do manage to get its health down a bit, it’ll summon a low-HP clone of itself to attack you at the same time (out of view, of course). Plus, if you do manage to defeat it somehow, it revives itself and gets a flame sword, increasing its reach even further.

To add insult to injury, the levels are made to be as confusing as possible. Multiple paths wind back into each other or dead end. Heck, the second bonfire (first checkpoint) in the first level after the Firelink Shrine is in a hidden-away dead end split path, and this isn’t the only time the game puts its checkpoints in out-of-the-way-locations. Plus, half the time, if you find the boss, that path will dead end as well, so you have to go back to wandering the stage to try to find where to go next. The worst example I came across was with the Cathedral of the Deep. I managed to defeat the boss only to reach a dead end. I wandered around the stage, trying to find where to go, but to no avail. Eventually, I looked up a map (because of course there are no in-game maps) and saw that the entire level was a dead end; I had to go all the way back to the previous area to find the branching path I needed to go down to progress.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this one. At this point, I’m convinced that the reason fans have used “get good” (and variations thereof) as a defense for this series is because it’s indefensible once you analyze the details. Lost Kingdoms is better and less random than this (and that game has a card-based combat system). Hell, even Drakengard is a better game than this since at least that game has maps, a radar to see nearby enemies, and clear objectives. This game may even be worse than the Tales franchise. Seriously, if this is what hack ‘n’ slash fans consider the proper way to increase difficulty, I may have to blacklist the genre like I did with RPGs.

  • Owlboy

    5 hours playtime

    1 of 12 achievements

This is a switch-hunt game with elements of stealth and twin-stick shooters. You’ll spend most of your time flying around large, empty areas, which make the controls feel sluggish (this is on top of the fact that your vertical movement is slower than your horizontal movement). You can dash with the B button, but that puts you closer to the edge of the screen (which, combined with the fact that the game likes to put hazards not far from screen transitions, can easily result in you getting hurt before you can react to what’s there). Sure, you can use the right stick to adjust where the camera points (since that’s how you aim your gun), but good luck doing that and dashing with the B button at the same time. It gets worse when you realize there are some shielded enemies that can only be made vulnerable by spinning with the X button, so you have to switch from the face buttons to the right stick to aim and shoot at them. The game knew to move the shoot button to the right trigger, so why didn’t it do the same for the other action-oriented commands?

However, this is far from a precision action game: for all but one dungeon, enemies and hazards are either non-existant or so sparse that they barely provide any challenge. Plus, despite this being a 2D sidescroller (the genre that basically invented level design), the level design does next to nothing to make up for the lack of challenge with the hazards. The most notable example is a zig-zagging hall in the Owl Temple: it’s completely empty except for one part where there are spikes on the ceiling. Those spikes don’t make it any trickier to get past that hall; they just waste your time by making you go slower so you don’t hit them.

Knock-back in this game is also absurd. A single hit from literally anything harmful will fling you further across the room than Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden combined (it’s literally half a screen before you can break out of the animation), and if you hit a wall during this animation, you now have to sit through a “slide down the wall” animation until you hit the ground and can get up.

Frankly, the fact that much of the game-play consists of switch-hunt-style “puzzles” means there are long segments that can be summed up with “bring X to the obvious Y, then push/hold the corresponding button, repeat.” The first level seems like it would be an introduction to the puzzle mechanics, featuring buttons that stay down and buttons that need to be weighed to stay active, but then you make it to the second dungeon and see that that’s basically all the game has. The only new things here are clouds that summon rain, wind that will destroy the clouds, and corks that block the wind, but rather than make it an action thing where you have to avoid the gusts or, dare I say, an actual puzzle, it’s just a linear path where you move the cloud up a bit, then fetch the cork and plug up the next gust, then repeat until you’ve made it to the end. That isn’t a puzzle, that’s a tutorial, yet the cloud/wind mechanic never goes beyond that (and it’s even dropped for the rest of the game).

To be fair, the action part of this picks up a bit with the mid-boss…well, half of it, anyway. The first phase actually has you shooting at the boss while avoiding its shots, but then the second phase has it retreat into its ship where it can’t be damaged, so you just wait near the ceiling until the cannon fires so it knocks some rocks loose that damage it for you. Then there’s the actual “boss” of the level which is just a “run away from the unstoppable hazard” segment, except this one has rubber-banding AI, so if you run too far ahead, it’ll speed up and give you less time to get around/shoot through the blocks.

After this is an extended, out-of-nowhere stealth segment: enemies immune to your gunfire will slowly walk back and forth, and if they notice you, proximity bombs will be spammed from the top of the screen on top of the enemies also throwing proximity bombs at you. Plus, they way forward will be blocked until you defeat all the enemies, and as you might be able to guess, since they’re immune to your gunfire, they can only be defeated from an explosion by a proximity bomb. However, the hit-box for said explosions is surprisingly small, so the bomb has to be dangerously close to the enemies for it to kill them. Combine this with how slow the bombs fall and the fact that the ones appearing from above spawn in random positions, and you can see how tedious this can be. I get that stealth games need some way to incentivise avoiding detection, but avoiding detection literally only requires you to wait on one or two slowly-moving objects to get out of your way, and waiting is boring (I still can’t believe there are developers that don’t realize this).

The next dungeon has an annoying darkness gimmick that limits your vision even more, because apparently the camera issue wasn’t enough. Once again, you have to move really slow so you won’t get hit by what you can’t see. Once you get past the first part and light up most of the rest of the dungeon, you’ll encounter a couple new enemies: one that stays still and shoots a projectile at you when it spots you, and worms that will jump out of holes in the ground at regular intervals. There’s even a part where the level design changes how you approach a situation by having a small hall with a projectile shooter, but putting a worm’s path right where you’d need to be to kill it, so you have to shoot the worm first. Dare I say, it’s actually kinda fun. Unfortunately, the game eventually remembers that it doesn’t actually want to be a fun action game and throws in another tedious switch-hunt mechanic where lighting certain torches summons a lamp, and killing the lamp causes it to generate the same too-small explosion as the earlier proximity bombs. There’s no challenge, you just need to lead the lamp to the next obviously-destructible block and kill it when it’s close enough. Later on, there’s a segment where you have to shoot a lever around a gear while also keeping two torches from reaching the bottom, lest they reset the lever. Not only are the torches constantly moving down, but the lever is also constantly rotating back to its original position, and since your gun barely moves the lever forward, you can only shoot at it for a few seconds before you have to go back to the torches and shoot them back up. Again, it’s not challenging; it’s just really tedious.

And then the game makes you do it again, only this time you don’t have to worry about the falling torches.

After this is the dungeon’s mid-boss, and for once, we have a boss that’s all about avoiding its pattern and shooting back! Unfortunately, the game expects you to be able to switch from shooting to dashing instantly what with how fast the boss attacks, but as mentioned earlier, that’s not really possible given how the controls are set up. Plus, stray projectiles can still hit you after you trigger the between-boss-phases cut-scene (the one that prevents you from moving).

After beating the mid-boss, the game sends you back to one of the large, empty areas from earlier so you can pull two switches and go back to the dungeon. Could’ve just set a fast-travel point and called it a day, but activating switches is this game’s raison d’être. Yeah, don’t actually build on that mechanic or make the path to the switches more dangerous or anything; who wants mechanical progression, anyway? Just throw some more gimmicks in there, it’ll be fine.

Going back to the dungeon, you’ll see that it introduces a new type of enemy (monkeys) for the second half, and what makes them hard is that they can spawn from behind the ceiling without warning. Other than that, this part of the level isn’t much different than the earlier part, being more focused on action and even having a bit of level design affect things, like when one of the fire-breathing shield-faces is placed on the wall next to the room’s entrance, but you can’t just go up and kill it since the destructible blocks on the side make that area too thin to avoid its flames. The boss is a giant worm, and while its attacks are well choreographed, it’s really easy to just float behind its head and shoot it a bunch whenever it comes out of the wall. After this is an auto-scrolling part where you just move up and down to avoid hitting blocks, but it’s really annoying since the camera keeps rotating and changing which direction “up” is (and because it’s hard to see when the floor and ceiling are closing in).

After reading all that, you may be thinking “that was a lot of action, and all in one level, no less! How can you say this isn’t really an action game?” Simple: aside from, like, two bosses (one of which is the final boss), THE GAME DROPS THE ACTION PART OF IT. After all of that is another stealth level, only instead of being forced into battle upon being caught, the gas gets turned on and you slowly lose health until you reach a switch (which may be too far away to reach before your entire health bar gets drained, so you’d better just keep waiting). Don’t worry, there are also some switch-hunts here to break up the monotony. The closest it gets to an action segment is when you pull a switch and a door opens, but it’s TiMeD, sO yOu’D bEtTeR hUrRy!1! (the path to the door is empty, by the way; not even any guards, much less hazards). The boss and its pattern definitely resemble something one might find in a challenging action game, but it’s actually easier than the second dungeon’s mid-boss once you realize you can just use the grapple ability to pass through the boss and its projectiles without getting hurt (and the boss may very well be impossible without said exploit). Then, you just wait for it to become vulnerable, attack it, repeat.

After that is the final level, and surprise surprise, we’ve got more switch-hunts, only this time, there are ZERO enemies!! The occasional set of spikes managed to slip through the cracks, though, but similar to that one part in the Owl Temple, they don’t really make much difference. Also, despite the entire rest of the game being built around flying, the game decides to take that away so it can add some extremely simple and bland platforming segments; the only thing you really need to watch out for is that you have to jump a bit early since your hit-box is thinner than your sprite. The final boss is done okay: it has decently conveyed attacks and its satellites are color coded so it won’t take much to figure out that each one is only vulnerable to one of your weapons, though I’m disappointed that the second phase is just a clone of the first phase.

So yeah, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. There are some good ideas, but its attempt at combining different genres just comes off as unfocused, not to mention the fact that it has to rely on basic switch-hunts to fill up most of the game-play (at least Ever Oasis and the 3D Zelda games knew to give the action equal focus). But hey, at least it has pretty graphics and smooth animation, eh?

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