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.


All right, now that I got Spellforce 2 out of the way, I think I’m back to getting my Steam backlog down at a decent pace.

  • Furi

    4 hours playtime

    18 of 33 achievements

This is a fighting game with twin-stick shooter elements. The game is divided into two main parts: walking segments, where you slowly walk toward the next arena, and fighting segments, where you actually fight one of the bosses (or “jailers” as the game calls them). The walking segments have fixed camera positions, and they seemingly exist only to let your partner give you cryptic world-building between bosses. Some of the game’s camera positions are more “artsy” than the ones in Koudelka, which can sometimes make it a bit hard to tell where you’re supposed to go. Why can’t this game just have normal cut-scenes like most other games do? The crossover appeal of “fighting game” and “walking simulator” isn’t perfect, you know. Luckily, you can just push the A button to auto-walk to the next fight segment (not that the game tells you this or anything).

The fighting segments are where the game-play is really at, and these are also divided into two segments: free-roam and close-quarters. In the free-roaming segments, you have access to all of your abilities: left stick to run, right stick to aim/shoot, B to parry, A to dash/dodge, and X to attack with your sword. You can also use the left shoulder buttons to dodge, which is useful if you’re using the right-stick to attack. The only change with close-quarters segments is that your gun is disabled and the boss has a ring around it that you can’t get out of. The controls are all decently responsive with one crucial exception: dashing has to be charged before you can use it. Keep in mind that this is otherwise a very fast paced game, with enemies giving you only a split second to parry and counterattack (to the point where it can feel like not-enough-time unless you already know what the attack pattern is), so having a dodge move that literally will not work if you don’t hold the button down for long enough is…out of place, to say the least. What’s even more annoying is that the distance you dash increases the longer you hold the button down, so even if you do have enough time to consciously remind yourself of the unresponsiveness of the dodge move, you can’t hold it down too long or you’ll end up dashing into the attack right afterward and taking damage anyway. It honestly feels like the game was built around a more responsive and consistent dash mechanic, but it was changed at the last minute for no good reason, and the game as a whole suffers because of it. The game could have at least added a marker showing where you’d end up after letting go of the dash button, but it didn’t even do that, so you kinda have to guess each time.

If it weren’t for that, this wouldn’t be a bad little game. Each consecutive boss does a pretty good job of building on the core attacks, with each attack giving you enough time to see it coming (though not necessarily enough time to react, as stated previously), and there are even a few arenas that have level design. Each boss has a set number of phases, represented by the squares below their health bar; when you deplete a boss’s health bar, a square turns hollow, the health bar refills, and the boss goes into its next phase; get Game Over, and you have to start the fight from the first phase again. It’s a tried-and-true formula that many old-school games use, but the devs made a few changes to the formula seemingly without thinking through how it would affect the end-user experience. The main difference is that your character also has “phases”: if your health depletes to zero, one of the three squares below your health becomes hollow and your health fills back up. The issue I have is that, whenever either character loses a phase, both your health and the enemy’s health fill back up (and if you’re the one who depleted the enemy’s health, you regain a phase). Despite this, the game still makes you redo the phases you’ve beaten already if you get a Game Over. Normally, these old-school games have the excuse that getting better at fighting an earlier phase of a boss would leave you with more health to fight the next phase, but since your health refills after beating an enemy’s phase anyway, being forced to redo the earlier phases is nothing but an exercise in tedium since it doesn’t matter how well you do on that specific phase; as long as you win, you’ll be in top shape for the next phase. It’s not as big a deal as the dash mechanic, but it’s still pretty annoying.

Anyway, as I was saying, each boss does a pretty good job of differentiating itself from the previous bosses. The first boss only has the core set of attacks and sets the tone for how quickly you need to react to said attacks. The second boss introduces laser attacks while also having destructible, regenerating walls and a hole in the center of the arena; you can’t walk into it, but it damages you if you dash into it. The third boss goes back to having a flat, circular arena, but begins the fight being surrounded by shields that can only be damaged by your gun (but which also reflect your shots); this phase takes a bit too long to get past IMO (especially since the shields spin around and can regenerate), but at least this is only for that one phase, with other phases having things like defense towers that you have to destroy before you can reach the boss. The fourth boss introduces more complex bullet patterns, but can disappear and drag you into a quick time event where you have to move the control sticks left and right to avoid taking damage (this normally only happens when you mistime a counterattack and lock swords with the boss). The fifth boss carries a shield that can’t be damaged, so it isn’t uncommon for you to end up just waiting for the boss to do something so you have an opening. Also, the last phase of this boss starts with a series of melee attacks while the boss is invincible, so you just have to stand there parrying until it’s over. It goes on long enough that you think you might have to do something to stop it, like a perfect parry to stun the boss or something, but no, that’ll just get you killed; you just have to wait it out with normal parries. The sixth boss is rather unique since it has entire phases that are free-form only, meaning you’ll fight almost exclusively with the gun while dodging projectiles. It also brings back having a unique arena, this time with no walls, so you can fall off the edge and take damage just like if you fell into the hole in the second boss’s arena. Around halfway through the fight, more platforms appear that surround the initial arena, and the game even puts some more defense towers on said platforms, with the boss’s projectile waves becoming more complex as you destroy more towers, which is neat.

The seventh boss is easily the worst one. It starts with you getting attacked by some drones, which is kinda neat since the game has normally just been a boss rush, but then the boss targets you with a sniper laser, so you have to take cover behind some barriers. At first, this doesn’t seem so bad; follow the laser while avoiding the attacks so you can find the boss and deal damage, but when you dash onto the platform the boss is on, it runs away. If you try shooting the boss, it’ll just run through your bullets, invincible. No matter what I did, I couldn’t damage the boss, so I looked up a walkthrough, and basically just said “go up and shoot her,” but as stated earlier, that didn’t work, so I watched the accompanying video, and it turns out you have to be targeted by the laser, then dash onto the boss’s platform and take cover behind one of the little walls on said platform, then wait for the boss to shoot at the wall, which will destroy it (unlike the larger walls in the main arena), and then you shoot the boss, and that’s how you trigger the main part of the phase. Not only is that series of steps pretty arbitrary for an action game like this, but any deviation from those steps results in the boss turning invincible and running away. Even if it weren’t for how the game handles the dash mechanic, this alone would be enough for me to say the game isn’t worth full price (I’ve played $15 games that are better designed). Honestly, that kind of arbitrary logic is better suited in a riddle-based “puzzle” game like Antichamber, not a fighting game.

Back to the bosses: the eighth boss is more centered around close-quarters attacks, in contrast to the sixth boss. To be honest, the game does some arbitrary things with this boss as well, but it isn’t nearly as bad as the previous boss. For example, the boss can attack you with a series of melee attacks that can be parried, just like all bosses with close-quarters phases, and just like those other bosses, you can counterattack between the enemy’s attacks during the first phase. The second phase has the boss clearly dash away after the first attack, clearly showing that trying to counterattack after the first attack will result in a miss and an opening for the boss, so it’s still fine, but the third and fourth phases send you to a thin, linear arena. At this part, if the boss uses melee attacks and you try to counter after the first or second attack, the boss will immediately dash away, but if you counter after the third attack, you’ll deal damage, despite there being no clear visual (or even audio) indication that this third attack is any different from the other two. During these phases, the boss can also send out fast-moving projectile waves, and this is where the dash mechanic’s failings are put into clear focus: once you dash past the first one, you’ll end up right in front of the second one, so there isn’t enough time to dash past it; what you have to do is dash backward with what little space you have left so you can make it past the next wave. Honestly, all of this ends up making the ninth boss super easy in comparison. However, I will say that the ninth boss was the closest the game got to having proper levels: between each phase, there’s a series of platforms you have to dash across while simultaneously avoiding projectiles and lasers, and it’s the one point in the game where the charged dash is actually useful and not a detriment. I kinda wish the game had more segments like this so it isn’t just a glorified boss rush. Also, right before the ninth boss, your companion hypes up a thing that’s supposed to stop you “for good,” but it ends up being a cut-scene, and not even one with quick time events, which is disappointing.

Once you beat the ninth boss, the credits roll. After the credits, you can access a post-game boss, but not before another walking segment, except this time there’s no way to auto-walk to your destination! At least you get to run and have free movement of the camera, so you can better see where to go. Once you make it to the post-game boss, you’ll see that it exclusively focuses on the free-form part of the boss fights (even more so than the sixth boss), so you won’t be using the sword at all. Aside from the aforementioned problems with the dash mechanic, it’s not too bad, though the final phase brings back the “I’m invincible and you just have to wait past my attacks for a while” that the fifth boss had. At least it’s a more climactic battle and more proper conclusion than the ninth boss was.

Overall, this game is hard to recommend. Most of the game works, and it’s fun when that happens, but the unresponsive dash mechanic really brings the whole game down, and the arbitrary set of moves to trigger the sniper boss’s proper attack phase just adds salt to the wound.

P.S. Whenever you turn the game off and turn it back on, the title screen repeats a line of narration from the previous walking segment, but you can’t skip it, so you have to sit there listening to what the game already told you last time before the game lets you start playing again. It might’ve been kinda neat if the game would’ve let you skip it.

This may be a bit of a different kind of post for me.

Oh balls...

This is a sports game. You control a pinball on a board with ally pinballs and enemy pinballs (which can be bots or other players, online or offline). Scattered around the map are bumpers; collide with one, and it will change to your team’s color and send you flying off in another direction uncontrollably for a split second or so. At set points during the match, the gate to the goal opens up, and when you enter it, your team gets points based on how many of the bumpers you hit are still your team’s color (you also get points for combos, I think), at which point you’re sent back onto the map to gather more points. You can see which team is in the lead by looking at the bars on the lower left of the screen. At the end of a match, it tries to do that Splatoon thing where the teams’ scores slowly increase, then suddenly charge at each other to reveal the winner, but the winning team’s score still increases faster during the “build up” phase (at least, if they have a big enough lead). As for controls, you have a double jump, a “stomp” move that can temporarily take out opponents, a “spin” move that lets you wall-jump or boots forward (depending on if you hit a wall or the ground, respectively), and a dash move that sends you in the direction you pointed at a fixed speed for about a second. If you use the dash move in mid-air, your previous trajectory and momentum instantly returns when the dash is over, which definitely takes some getting-used-to.

If that sounds interesting to you and you want to know more details about it, that’s too bad because I’m not a fan of competitive multiplayer games (If you’re wondering why I got this game, it was free on Twitch Prime), so aside from the tutorial, I ignored that mode and went for the single-player “parkour challenges,” a set of 28 obstacle courses which each take less than a minute to beat on a successful run. Same controls, but the objective is to jump through all the green rings on the course and reach the end as fast as possible. The closest you get to opponents are the leaderboards for fastest time beating the levels (which is currently held by a user with “TAS” in the name. HMMM…!!!), and besides bottomless pits, the courses don’t have any hazards by default. Both at the start and during your attempts at clearing a course, you can see how much time (left) you have in order to get a bronze/silver/gold star, and at the end, you’re shown your time, star rank, and are given options to play the next stage, play the previous stage (the one before the stage you just beat), see the leaderboards, or return to the menu. If you’re wondering where “retry” is, there’s a small, grayed-out prompt at the top of the screen that tells you which button to hold down to retry the course; at first, I was annoyed that there was barely any indication for this, but I did like that I could manually restart the course mid-attempt since it’s faster than waiting for the game to realize you fell down into the void again.

The level design is actually pretty good for the most part. Levels start off easy and get progressively more difficult, though there is the occasional level that ends up being a spike or dip in difficulty. Bumpers show up, but rather than be for points, they’re either used as obstacles you have to avoid or springboards you have to use to progress. Levels are also fairly straightforward, so it usually isn’t a problem to see what’s coming, and if you do end up needing to change direction, you can start spinning in that direction, and when you hit the ground, the camera will rotate around you to point in the direction you’re facing. The problem I had is with the game’s physics: not only can bumpers be unreliable in where they throw you and how fast, but the simple fact that you need momentum on your ball to make some of these jumps makes it difficult to be precise; it’s less about skill and more about trial and error so you know exactly how long to hold the jump button so you neither undershoot nor overshoot that tiny platform out in the distance all by itself. Heck, even if you hit a wall, you get reflected to a different trajectory rather than hug the wall. When everything works, it can be pretty fun, but when things don’t work, it isn’t uncommon for the culprit to be the physics throwing you slightly off, where doing basically the same input results in success.

One thing you may notice is that there’s a second page to the list of parkour challenges. Could this be another set of new levels? Nope; it’s just “gauntlet” versions of the same 28 courses; they have the same land/wall/bumper/booster placements, just with blades and lasers added at various points (and the occasional path replaced with moving platforms). For the most part, it isn’t too bad, and even helps to spice up some of the levels. However, it does bring another problem into focus: the camera. At first, this is only really noticeable when you need to wall jump up a wall since you’ll inevitably bounce off, causing the camera to flip 180 degrees, disorienting you when you just wanted to keep going forward. The game also has half-pipes that send you to a higher or lower floor, but rather than the camera rotating with you to keep the path below eye level, the camera simply slides up, then again, rotates 180 degrees into the pipe when you reach the end. At first, this isn’t too bad since there’s usually no surprises placed right after a half-pipe, but in the “gauntlet” version of stages, it’s rare for there not to be some kind of laser trap that you have barely (if any) time to react to. This could also be filed under “bad level design,” but I think it might’ve been able to work if the camera had been tweaked a bit more.

Overall, I’m not sure if I can recommend this game. You’d obviously need to enjoy the multiplayer to get the most out of it, and you’d also have to be able to enjoy physics-based games, but even if you get it on sale, there isn’t a lot to the single player. As stated before, it’s less about moment-to-moment challenge and more about getting the best time (and if you care about the leaderboards, that Tool Assisted Speedrunner might give you pause).

Fun fact: I won this game on Steamgifts a mere couple months before it was given away for free. I also won it before I played Starcraft and realized I wasn’t that big a fan of RTSs. Oh well.

I'd always heard about how female armor in video games tends to be more revealing than the male armor in the same game, but this is the first time I've actually encountered it being done unironically.

  • SpellForce 2 - Anniversary Edition

    59 hours playtime

    no achievements

This is a CRPG/RTS hybrid. You have your standard group of heroes (never more than 7 at a time), but at various points in the game, you’ll be given access to a headquarters and some resource gatherers for the rest of the map, at which point you need to build up an army and send them, along with your group of heroes, into battle against the enemy to destroy their headquarters (only a couple maps don’t have an RTS segment). Controls are also fairly standard: click and drag to select all units in an area, shift-click to select multiple units, right click to move/attack, WASD to move the camera. I do have one issue with the controls: your heroes have a list of powers that you can use by clicking on the icon (e.g. healing, AOE spell, attack increses by X% for Y seconds, etc), but there are some icons that don’t seem to want to work. For example, early on, there’s a power that’s supposed to deal 2X damage for the “next attack,” but whenever I clicked it, the cursor changed. I assumed this meant I had to select which enemy would take the attack (even though that would result in an unnecessary extra step), but no matter what I did, the cursor went back to normal and the power never activated (I know this because my mana never went down). Because of this, I just stuck with the powers that appeared below the unit icons rather than the ones that showed up exclusively on the bottom row, so there’s probably a whole slew of powers I never used because I couldn’t get them to work. I will say: I don’t think I ever tried selecting which of my heroes would deal the extra damage, but that’s kinda unintuitive since the power would disappear if I selected a different hero.

Speaking of the game not making things clear, what is it with RTSs and not explaining the benefits/drawbacks of units? The game explains the basics of RTS mechanics just fine, but of course you start off only being able to deploy a couple different units, and when new ones are unlocked, they’re done so without any fanfare, so you might not even realize it happened. Likewise, if you want to know what any of these new units do, you have to dig through your building options to see which building you need to build in order to have the privilege of deploying said units, then hover over the unit’s icon and read its description, all while the enemy is building a sally to blow you away, because the computer doesn’t need to worry about mis-clicks or time-management (and then you reach a point where the game randomly makes you use a different faction and you have to learn about the units all over again). Honestly, I found it easiest just to build a bunch of the cheapest unit (and sometimes defense towers if that alone didn’t work) and swarm the enemy as quickly as possible. The only time I didn’t just build default HQ units was on the map where the game went out of its way to say “hey, you should build stone golems.” (and not long afterward when the game told me I had to build shadow units to sneak past the enemy).

On the CRPG side of things, the game is surprisingly boring. Since you only have access to your small group of heroes during these parts, the game can’t do anything too crazy to you, but this results in you only fighting against a small group of very weak enemies at a time, making it nearly impossible to lose (and that’s when you aren’t just walking back and forth talking to people). This is half the game. If you do somehow end up running into a group of enemies large enough to pose a threat, there’s one tactic that never fails to even the odds: baiting. Leave most of your heroes behind and send one in, and when the enemies notice you, run back to where the others are. Even if some of the enemies don’t register you as going out of bounds and return to their designated “wait here” spot, you’ll be the one who gets to surround and take out them one by one. This tactic is even useful in certain RTS segments. If one of your heroes does end up dying (most likely in an RTS segment), you have three minutes to have another of your heroes use a spell to revive them (which they can do even if they’re not a healer), though revived allies only get back a small fraction of their health (but on top of healing spells and equippable healing staffs, everyone heals a little bit automatically over time).

To be fair, the game does try to spice up the CRPG segments near the end. For example, there’s one map where you never get access to a headquarters, but the opposing factions do have HQs. However, the enemies are weak enough and spawn slowly enough that the strategies listed above still work just fine. The only time I had to rethink my CRPG strategy was at the very end of the second-to-last map, where the portal to the final map was guarded by a giant: baiting wouldn’t work since it’s just one enemy, and reviving allies takes long enough that it can eventually wipe you out just by keeping the pressure up. What I had to do was send my archers and healer to the lower floor, then bait the giant to be in range of my archers. The incline effectively acts as a wall, preventing the giant from attacking the archers directly (the slope connecting the floors is out of bounds for the enemy), but it won’t go back to its “wait here” spot since it’s still technically in battle. That exploit allowed me to heal/revive my melee combatants as needed. Still kinda boring in execution, but at least it made me stop and think for a few seconds.

In contrast, the RTS segments…well, they’re still not that great, but there is a bit of variety. Unfortunately, that variety is mostly at the beginning, while you’re still learning how to play and don’t have access to many units, so rather than starting simple and progressing in difficulty, it starts by changing the rules before petering out into repetition. The very first RTS segment is the barebones tutorial, and the very second RTS segment has you protecting a group of computer-controlled horses on a linear path that only has small dead-end branches that lead to enemy headquarters; destroy one, and the horses move to the next spot, but while you’re fending off enemies from one branch, the horses can still get attacked by enemies from the next branch, and each branch spawns progressively more/stronger enemies. I don’t even know if the game lets you build defense towers at this point, but either way, I didn’t know they were a possibility; all I knew I could do was gather resources and spawn swordsmen and archers, but that wasn’t enough to destroy an HQ from one branch and defend the horses from another branch, even after I lowered the difficulty to Normal. Eventually, I found that if I attacked a headquarters enough, it would stop spawning enemies (only for this map, it seems), and I could go ahead and destroy the other HQs without worrying about them spawning more units or attacking the horses behind my back. Yup, another exploit. This type of segment (multiple enemy HQs + escort mission) really should’ve been later in the game, after the player is more familiar with (or has more access to) the game’s units.

Beyond that, there aren’t too many noteworthy RTS segments. The one right after the dwarven mines (where you fight against the ice witch) has the enemy be more defensive, with most enemies guarding the camps, and the one at the Bulwark encourages your own units to defend the camp since this is the only map where you have AI controlled ally armies (which you utilize by talking to their commanders, telling them which of four points on the map you want them to go to). The former required some thinking in my experience, but the latter was, once again, really easy, not only because you don’t have to worry about offense as much, but also because there’s an NPC that lets you skip the “Bulwark” part of the Bulwark map entirely, turning it into another CRPG segment. In fact, once you get past that RTS segment on the dwarf map, all the RTS segments become as thoughtless and easy as the CRPG segments, at least until you make it to the Fireforge. You see, this map has not one, but two enemy HQs, and your HQ is right in the middle of the path connecting the two. Naturally, I went with my usual strategy of “build a bunch of default units and go for the enemy HQ,” attacking any enemies and towers I encountered along the way, but as I was destroying one of the enemy camps, the other enemy HQ had built a sally and was blowing away my own camp. There were too many enemies for me to fend them off with my own towers (and merely trying that led me to run out of resources), and even if I tried to build another HQ where the one I had destroyed was, then go around the sally and try to reach the enemy HQ while they were busy attacking mine, I’d just end up running into another sally and get sandwiched before I could fight them all off. I was considering giving up, but as I was playing one of my Twitch Prime games, something occurred to me: my strategy wasn’t flawed; I just wasn’t doing it fast enough. So I loaded an earlier save, built my army up, and went straight for the enemy HQ, this time ignoring all the enemies and towers along the way, and it worked.

Now, you may be thinking “of course a Real Time Strategy game would punish you for bad time management,” but hear me out: if you know where the enemy headquarters is (and, by extension, know which enemy outposts to avoid), build your army to its maximum size (maybe even without building a farm, which increases the max size of your army), and rush forward to blitz the enemy headquarters (often ignoring and maybe even deliberately taking damage from less-strategically-important enemy outposts along the way), the game suddenly becomes too easy since the enemy hasn’t had much time to prepare for an assault. In other words, the whole “strategy” part of this Real Time Strategy becomes moot since there’s only one real winning strategy. This is the other half of the game. Need to assemble parts of a book but keep getting assaulted by Orcs riding large cats? Blitz their camp. Need to reach Malacay’s lab but those pesky soldiers keep getting in your way? Ignore the cluster of archers and towers on the right and blitz their HQ in the upper left. It means the difference between fighting a losing battle of attrition vs. a swift and decisive victory, as any kind of defensive strategy simply isn’t viable for the most part. I feel like the only reason this game has fog of war is because the only way it can be challenging is by catching you off guard, exploiting your lack of knowledge (which would also explain the lack of details in the tutorial)…

…which leads me to the last unique RTS segment that I’d like to bring up. At least 2/3rds into the game, maybe more, there’s a map where your spawn point is quite a distance from your camp, which almost immediately gets assaulted by spiders, some of which spawn six little spiders when they die; if you get caught up fighting the stationary spiders along the way, your HQ will be destroyed before you can even get there, so you have to rush over to be on the defensive. Despite the tutorial, by this point in the game, you’ve likely learned that enemy units are always spawned from buildings, and buildings can be destroyed. Combine this with the sheer volume of spiders assaulting your HQ, and you might think it would be a good idea to fight back against the spiders and destroy their spawn points, but for this map and only this map (and one other map where it’s significantly less significant), the enemies are spawned from caves, which can’t be destroyed. There’s a difference between variety and breaking established rules. What’s worse, this is another escort mission; while this AI controlled character will help fight enemies, it won’t follow you if it gets caught up in a battle, which is extremely likely when there are a bunch of enemies being spawned around you. In other words, if you did try to fight back against the spiders, you’ve basically already lost, and for reasons you couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Once again, what you have to do is take all of your units and beeline towards your objective, making sure to bait some of the enemy soldiers into your army (and keeping your main character back to prevent your escort from dying, of course). After this, there’s another CRPG segment with the promise of removing the spiders at the end, where your initial escort decides to wait behind at the previous goal point, and then the game surprises you with another RTS segment right afterward. Yup, the main enemy HQ was behind a gate this whole time, and needless to say, the enemy quickly makes a sally to blow you away. Sure, you could wait on one of the branches for the sally to pass you by, then assault the enemy camp, but there isn’t enough time to finish the job before your escort gets killed, so guess what? If your resource gatherers were killed by spiders, you have to reload a save and do it all over again! This was the closest I came to giving up on the game. So yeah, repeat what I said a few sentences ago, making sure to bring some resource gatherers with you, but leave them by your escort so they stay safe during the battle, then before triggering the CRPG segment, build a new HQ right by where your escort stays (since apparently the spiders don’t feel like attacking that spot), then clear a path to the closest resource deposits so you can build up your defenses (which will take a while due to the fact that the nearest resource deposits are still a decent distance away, and resource gatherers slow down while carrying resources).

So yeah, this isn’t a game I’d recommend. I did get some satisfaction when I cleared a tough map (see previous paragraph), but a lot of the game was boring, and when that wasn’t the case, it was usually because the game wasn’t really being fair, and you had to know exactly what’s coming to be able to overcome it (see previous paragraph).

P.S. if you play a bunch of RTSs, and you’re running out of space on your computer, check your save files:

I beat the game in under a thousand saves! Wooo!

Finished this game the day before my free trial expired!

HONC IF YOU LOVE CHEMISTRY

This is another placement-based puzzle game with grid-based movement. In each level, you control one of five different atoms, with various other atoms scattered around the stage; the objective is to form bonds between the atoms until no atom is left unstable, and you can see how many more bonds to form on a specific atom before it becomes stable by looking at the number of white circles orbiting said atom. If an atom is unstable, it will automatically bond when moved next to another unstable atom, but stable atoms can move past unstable atoms no problem, or even (push/be pushed by) unstable atoms. Also, unlike the last puzzle game I wrote about, all of these levels are self-contained, so you can solve every level the moment you reach them.

A bit about the U.I.: I like how the white circles represent the number of bonds left rather than the number of valence electrons; that way, players don’t need a periodic table handy. However, I do think that the first couple stages could’ve drawn a bit more attention to the white circles and how they represent how many bonds the atoms need, as I didn’t even notice those circles were there for a while. Maybe everything on screen could dim besides the two circles about to bond, then have them stretch over each other to connect. Of course, this drawn-out effect would only be for the first level or two, kinda like how the first tutorial mission in Advance Wars show’s the enemy’s movement range and path during the enemy’s turn before, after a mission or two, transitioning to the standard quick, automatic movement of units.

My biggest issue with the game is that the difficulty is extremely variable, and not just because the game has constantly branching paths with entire sections of levels having their own exclusive gimmick that doesn’t show up in any other section, meaning the game is constantly having to lower its difficulty to introduce the next mechanic. Even if you take a section by itself and try to play its levels more or less from start to finish, it isn’t uncommon for there to be a series of tricky stages followed by a stage that’s so easy, you end up solving it in less than a minute without really thinking. Even the post-game, despite having some of the hardest puzzles in the game, also occasionally has a stage with a simple solution that doesn’t take much thought to reach.

Oh, and unlike the last game, where there was little fanfare when you complete the post-game, this game has NO fanfare when you finish all the levels; that’s minimalism for you. At least it rolls the credits when the main set of levels are completed.

With all that said, the game does have its fair share of tricky puzzles, so I quite liked this game overall. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, I’d recommend this game; just be aware that its difficulty is less of a linear progression and more of a sine curve.

This game was recommended to me by another BLAEO member, so I put it on my Steam wishlist only for it to end up free on Twitch Prime. Heh heh, it seems like everything just keeps reinforcing my decision never to pay for another game (at least until I get through my PC backlog).

"good" is subjective...and so is "hard"

This is a placement-based puzzle game with grid-based movement. The map is an interconnected series of rooms, and in each room are at least three snowballs (a few have six, and one room has nine). Each room also has a different setup of solid tiles, ground tiles, and snow tiles, and the objective is to stack the snowballs in the order of largest-medium-smallest to create a snowman; once all the snowmen in a room are complete, the paths leading to the adjacent rooms become available. The trick is that if you roll a snowball onto a snow tile, the snowball increases in size and turns the snow tile into a normal ground tile (all snowballs begin placed on a ground tile), but if the snowball is already at it’s largest size, it will only remove the snow on the ground, so what you have to do is use the largest snowball to clear a path for the other two so you can get them close enough to stack without accidentally making another snowball too big.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the game is that it’s really easy. Like, 70% of the rooms on the map are easily solved within a minute, often on your first try. To be fair, though, there were a few tricky puzzles, but only one really good one (Ben and Alan; the one with the exit gate). This is an unfortunate side-effect of many placement based puzzle games, though, and it seems like the devs knew this, so in an attempt to add a bit more challenge, they did something pretty devious: certain rooms can’t be solved until you unlock multiple entrances to them. Since all the rooms are interconnected, you might go in one direction only to have to give up and solve some other puzzles to unlock another path into the previous puzzle, then go back and forth between the two entrances to solve the puzzle. On one hand, this kinda goes against one of the reasons why I normally like placement-based puzzle games: the implication that no matter what the setup is, you can always solve the puzzle right then without having to backtrack or anything (first Broforce and now this; all the little details I thought I could use to determine whether or not I’d like a game are being subverted before my very eyes!). On the other hand, the puzzles…still…aren’t…that…hard. You can usually tell when it’s one of those rooms by looking at where the paths to adjacent rooms will appear (indicated by the shrub being hourglass-shaped instead of square-shaped)…and also the brick-wall that is “not being able to solve the puzzle on your first try,” though as I said before, the game does have a few genuinely tricky rooms, even after you wrap your head around that particular design choice.

Once you assemble all the snowmen, the north gate opens, and exiting it has the camera pan over all of the snowmen. At this point, I was ready to write the game off as another one of those Twisted-Lines/Slayaway-Camp-esque dull mobile-phone puzzle games that’s maybe worth $5 at best…but then the post-game happened. After the camera is done panning over the snowmen, you’re taken to the Negaverse; while it has the same layout as the main map, the only solid tiles are the starting archway and the benches. If you push select, you return to the exit gate on the main map. This is easily the worst part of the game: you think you’d have to do something in the Negaverse, and while you’re technically right, you’ll find that there’s nothing to do there; even if you walk out of bounds, you just loop to the other side of the map (and walking through the archway in the Negaverse does nothing). If you go back to the main map and exit through the entrance archway there, you just end up in a small map with mirrored versions of the first three main map rooms (already solved, the same way you solved them). What you have to do is go to the mirror rooms, sit on the bench (push the direction button to move into it), then lean back on the bench (push that same direction button again), then wait, at which point you’re teleported to the Negaverse version of those three mirror rooms, and now you can progress. Sure, it doesn’t take much to figure out you can sit on a bench, and sure, the benches are basically the only thing present in the initial Negaverse, but nothing else about how you’re supposed to progress is communicated to the player at all. Dang it, I play placement-based puzzle games to get away from this type of nonsensical logic! Why not just turn the benches into portals? You’d walk into it once, then immediately get taken to the corresponding place on the other map.

Anyway, now that the worst part of the game is behind us, you’ll see that, in the Negaverse, there are large snowballs in place of the snowmen you built. However, the rules are reversed: moving a snowball onto a ground tile shrinks the size of the snowball until there’s nothing left, and a snow tile is left in its place. Likewise, all snowballs start on snow tiles, and rolling a snowball on a snow tile merely prevents it from melting rather than making it grow. This is where the game really gets tricky: unless you got lucky or followed a walkthrough, you need to go back to the main map and resolve the puzzles in a way that puts the three snowmen close enough that you can build another snowman from the corresponding snowballs in the Negaverse. This might explain why most of the puzzles in the main map were so easy: they needed to have multiple ways to solve them…but the mirror map kinda defeats that. You see, once you build the first Negaverse snowman, the map zooms out to show another map with different arrangements of the main map’s rooms, with some even having all new entrance points; combine this with the fact that you can now travel to and from the Negaverse by resting on a bench (adding all new ways you can circle around the snowballs), and there’s no way you’d be able to “accidentally” solve all the puzzles in a way that lets you build all the Negaverse snowmen in one go. Also, despite all the extra steps, around half of the post-game puzzles are still pretty easy, so the real reason is probably that it’s really hard to make consistently challenging placement-based puzzles.

Once you finish building all the Negaverse snowmen, a new archway appears, and entering it brings you to an ending even more anticlimactic than the last one. It’s disappointing since the game makes you think it’s building to something what with all the ominous stuff going on in the Negaverse, but I’m glad the game focused on its puzzles instead (though said puzzles could’ve used a bit more focus IMO).

Overall, I’d recommend this game if you’re a fan of puzzles. Sure, most of the main game is easy and accessing the post-game is super arbitrary, but it does have its fair share of really challenging puzzles.

P.S. Another annoying thing about the game are the telescopes. They’re supposed to be there so you can zoom the camera out and see where you need to go next (or just admire all the snowmen), but the camera zooms out really slow, and you have to hold the direction moving into the telescope; letting go zooms right back into where you are.

EDIT: I should also point out that this might be the first time I’ve seen the parallel-universe gimmick used to create actual puzzles instead of your typical Oracle-of-Ages style “move the seed over here so it becomes a vine in the future” stuff. Pretty impressive.

Well, now that I’ve played all the Twitch Prime games I was really interested in, I’ll just pick random ones to play until my trial runs out (I know they say I’ll get to keep the games after I cancel, but better safe than sorry).

Some games are too annoying to be recommended

This is a top-down beat ‘em up. The core of the game is centered around whittling down the health bars of waves of enemies until the path forward unlocks, but there is a decent amount of variation to the game-play to keep it from being too repetitive, like simplistic platforming segments or a series of empty rooms where you need to solve riddles or go on a switch hunt.

I’ve never been a big fan of beat ‘em ups (if you’re wondering how I differentiate between them and hack ‘n’ slash games, it’s a combination of pace-of-play and player-mobility), but this game bothers me right out of the gate with how it handles its playable characters. First, basic mechanics are split between the characters: only one character can jump and climb; only one character can push blocks; heck, only one character can dash! The only character here that has any excuse to be separate is the one with the gun (everyone else has short-ranged attacks that basically function the same). What’s even more annoying is that you can only cycle through the characters in one direction, even though the character-swap button is LB. What’s RB used for, then? Well, not long after the first boss, you get exactly one more character to join your party, and this is who you switch to when you push RB (push LB to switch back to the main cast). To be fair, this character has more of an excuse to be a separate entity from your party: he can go through locked doors, enter portals, and can walk on a specific type of platform that none of the other characters can. Plus, this character is on the map separate from the main cast, and switching back and forth between the two characters while they’re at two different locations is used to solve certain switch hunts and riddles.

But the game isn’t done being annoying yet. Not long into the game, you get the ability to see ghosts; push RT to toggle the effect. Here’s the thing: at no point in the game is there any reason for you to toggle the effect off; not only are most of the enemies ghosts, but there’s also occasionally ghost writing on the scenery, some of which tell you the solution to the current riddle. There’s never a point in the game where, say, you need to turn the effect off because of a ghost blocking your ability to see where real platforms are or anything, so the game could’ve cut out this effect entirely, moved RB’s effect to RT, then used RB to let the player cycle between players in the other direction. Oh, and if you’re wondering what LT is used for, it’s precision aiming, which is only really useful when playing as the gun character.

However, the most annoying part of the game is the stamina bar. The only action that doesn’t deplete it is walking. Did you dash out of the way of an attack? Your stamina went down. Did you jump? Your stamina went down. Did you attack an enemy? Your stamina went down. If your stamina bar depletes completely, you’re stunned for a second, giving any nearby enemies plenty of time to counterattack. Honestly, the only thing that makes the waves of enemies at the end of the game more threatening than the waves of enemies at the beginning of the game is that there’s so many that you’re bound to run out of stamina at some point just by trying to progress.

Even if you set all that aside, the game is just kinda dull. There isn’t much variation with the enemies you fight (mostly just short-range attackers that pose little threat, long-range attackers, and enemies that charge at you and get stunned after attacking), and the platforming doesn’t really evolve past disappearing platforms. Heck, one of the first bosses is just more enemy waves, then the game stops and makes you play a round of Simon. Maybe the game could have combined fighting enemies with platforming, adding variety without introducing anything new, but that would’ve…I can’t even think of anything snarky to say. Beyond that, there’s just some misc. mini-games to indicate chapter transitions: one is a runner where you move up and down to avoid objects, one is a button masher where you literally just repeatedly press the button that shows up on screen, and another is reminiscent of SHMUPS where you have to dodge bullet patterns until the time runs out; all of these only show up once for a minute or so. There’s one segment reminiscent of adventure games since you’re literally just going back and forth talking to various NPCs until you finally have the information you need. There’s one segment that’s just a few platforming challenges disguised as block-pushing riddles (you have to get one character to reach the area with the solution, then have the other character push the blocks).

Despite the majority of the game being really easy and kinda dull, the semi-final boss is a huge difficulty spike. First, it’s the only part of the game that combines platforming with other hazards: segments of the arena sink into lava and you have to jump across the remaining segments to avoid projectiles. However, the game goes overboard with its hazards: if you touch a platform, it catches fire after a second, so you need to be jumping back and forth across the platforms constantly. During the first phase (where it’s just the standard projectiles), this is perfectly fine, but the second phase has missiles fall onto most of the platforms, so you have to find and reach a safe platform quickly (all while the platforms keep catching on fire behind you). Then, the boss shoots lasers and starts spinning the lasers around, so if you were running away from the flames in the wrong direction, you’re screwed. I finally got past this boss when I figured out that there’s a programming-oversight that causes the flames not to appear if you’re standing on the very edge of the platform; without those flames, the difficulty of the boss is more in-line with the rest of the game, and actually pretty fun.

Unfortunately, the fun factor goes back down for the final boss, though. The first phase is yet another “waves of generic enemies,” then the second phase has attacks that move too fast for you to dodge them and counterattack effectively (you might get one hit in for every ~20 seconds of attacks, and the boss takes about the same number of hits to kill). Trying to fight the boss without taking hits is incredibly tedious, so I just spammed attacks and healing items at this point. The final phase of the boss only has one attack where it charges at you; you might be able to avoid it if you’re constantly moving, but the only way to win is to bait the boss into charging into crystals scattered around the arena (not that you’d know that at first), so I just kept taking hits and using healing items.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this game. Its variation is exclusive to its scattershot approach to genres, having a bit of everything rather than focusing on one and making it good. It might be okay at first if you enjoy beat ‘em ups, but the lack of any evolution in its level design combined with the spike in tedium and difficulty at the end will more than likely sour your experience, too.

Here’s another Twitch Prime game I was looking forward to playing, though I wasn’t as impressed with this one.

This is a platformer. Along with your standard left/right/jump, you can slide on walls and climb up them by tapping the jump button some more. You also have two attack buttons and a special attack button that has a limited amount of ammo. The character you begin with has a gun as a primary weapon, a melee attack as the secondary weapon, and a grenade for the special attack. As you free prisoners, you unlock more characters, with most following this pattern of “gun, melee, grenade,” though the special weapon does vary much more often. With that said, there are a few characters that don’t follow this pattern: one character has his ranged attack mapped to the secondary attack button and the melee attack mapped to the primary attack button, and a few others have two melee attacks mapped to the primary/secondary buttons. Plus, whenever you rescue a prisoner (the only way to increase the number of lives you have) or whenever you die, you’re randomly assigned another unlocked character to play as. Despite this, the levels and bosses are all designed in a way that even melee characters can beat them (though certain parts are obviously much easier to complete with certain characters than with others). My main issue with this is that certain characters have intentionally unresponsive controls: one character only shoots when you let go of the button (as opposed to when you press it), and another has a half-second wind up animation you have to sit through every time. Plus, every character has momentum-jumps: there’s no way to fall straight down unless you drop from a ladder, so if you want to drop down a ledge, you need to turn around right after walking off, but there’s also a mechanic where the character will climb onto the platform if you hit the top of the wall, which is especially annoying if you need to drop down a single-unit-wide hole quickly to avoid a hazard.

Despite all of that, I can forgive it if the level design is good, and at the start of the game, it’s pretty fun. I played on hard mode (looking it up to make sure it wasn’t just another “increase HP for enemies” laziness-induced tedious grind), and even the normal enemies are a threat if you try to face them head-on since all characters die in one hit (and you only have one life per level until you rescue a prisoner). Combine this with fully-destructible environments (outside of the tiles that support checkpoints and zip lines), and the game actually encourages more stealthy play, making it more viable to take out enemies through fall damage (to which you’re immune) than by shooting them. The problem comes in with the game’s attempt at spectacle: not only do a significant chunk of your weapons generate an explosion, but there are also exploding barrels scattered throughout the levels along with canisters that, upon taking damage (usually from another explosion or gunfire), rocket in whichever direction they’re facing and explode. The levels seem to be designed around creating as much chaos as possible, often having canisters rocket upward to destroy a ceiling, causing volatile barrels to fall down and explode some more. Heck, there are even specific types of enemies that explode on death. The worst example are probably the air strikes: on paper, it’s good design since there’s a clear indicator of what path they’ll take and where they’ll land, but in practice, the indicators stand out far more than the actual missiles, making them more of a distraction (why couldn’t the indicators be transparent and the missiles be bright red?).

At first, it isn’t too hard simply to go backward in the level and wait for the chaos to subside, but as you get near to the end, the game starts spawning a larger quantity of enemies with fewer ways to get around them, even going so far as to have NES-Ninja-Gaiden-style infinitely-spawning enemies if you’re standing in the wrong spot. Combine this with the chaotic nature of the levels and the one hit deaths, and it can become nearly impossible to keep up with where you are in order to avoid all the hazards that inevitably show up simply as a result of you trying to defend yourself from the enemies. Normally, I’d say that I’m starting to prefer one-hit-death games (without randomized levels, of course) since it’s a guarantee by the developers that there’s no mandatory damage (because if there was, the game would be impossible), but this game might have found a way around that simply by having you respawn at the last checkpoint without resetting the level (until you lose all of your lives, at which point you’re sent back to the last raised-checkpoint or even the beginning of the level).

This chaos also spreads to the boss fights. Like the levels, they’re not too bad at first, but as the game progresses, they get more unwieldy. There was a wide robot boss that, once you got it to around 1/4th of its health, it would just constantly stream air strikes at you (or as close to you as its range would allow). I would have gotten a .GIF of it if I knew how that recording function worked at the time. It’s way easier to destroy the ground around the arena so when the boss spawns, it falls off-screen and dies before it can really do anything. Not long afterward, there’s another boss that basically just sits still and shoots three guided acid bombs at a time; not only do they have the distracting airstrike indicator, but when one hits a solid tile, it fragments into three separate acid blobs (that don’t have the indicator), and of course, you die if any of those projectiles hits you. While this boss won’t fall down, it’s still way easier to tunnel under the boss where it can’t reach you so that it ends up hurting itself with its acid blobs. Even if we assume that this is how the player is supposed to fight these bosses, you have to admit that it starts to get repetitive simply doing the same tactic over and over. However, the most telling is probably the boss where the only way to damage it is by standing on a dive-bomb enemy (if you ever fall off of said enemy, it charges downward and explodes into acid upon colliding with a solid tile). You can’t safely tunnel over them since those particular tiles respawn after being destroyed, so the only way to win is to tunnel through them quickly, then try to land on the uppermost dive-bomber. There are several spots where dive-bombers spawn, making it seem like you should be able to come up from below, but if you try to do that, they’ll just keep dive-bombing, never giving you a chance to jump on one, and you’ll inevitably die from acid (you can’t climb up the pedestal the boss is on because it has feelers that will knock you off). However, at least the spawn points for the dive-bombers are indicated; the worst part of the boss is that if you mess up and fall down, the only way back up to the checkpoint is blocked by an unindicated spawner of a charging enemy that also explodes into acid, so you have to dodge that enemy (in a literal uphill battle) and all the dive-bombers and all the acid projectiles that spawn when each enemy crashes.

Overall, this game is hard to recommend. The first half or so is pretty fun, but the game’s focus on spectacle and chaos only makes it harder to play the game. If you’re interested, I say wait for a good sale.

I had actually forgotten that Twitch Prime started giving away games until I saw a comment on Steamgifts saying that this game was available for the current month, so I had to spend my free trial right then (Hyper Light Drifter was a bonus).

This splash screen also shows up when you start the game, though that may just be something the Twitch launcher does since Hyper Light Drifter had a splash screen as well.

This is an action platformer. I’ve seen a bunch of people call it a Metroidvania, and while I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m saying that this would easily make it the most linear, least interconnected Metroidvania I’ve played. It practically is just a linear action platformer, with the vast majority of split paths leading to optional Power Seals (collect all of them for an upgrade) or a large cluster of Time Shards (this game’s currency; also optional). Heck, you don’t even get access to the map until around half-way through the game, at which point you unlock a few quick-travel points so you can go back and get what you missed easier (though you’ll have to pass up quite a few of them since you won’t get certain power-ups until later). Basically, think more Celeste and less Iconoclasts.

Anyway, something I’ll start pointing out every time I come across it is that this game’s combat doesn’t waste your time: not only is there absolutely no delay with the controls (you can even move and attack at the same time!) and no physics applied to the jumps (even in midair, letting go of the D-pad stops your forward momentum instantly), but you can kill most enemies in one hit (even without any upgrades); this is balanced because enemies are threatening before you get close enough to attack them, which is how it should be. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of two standard enemies that take more than one hit to kill: a slow moving turtle-thing that doesn’t do anything besides shamble forward (three hits), and one of the tiny jumping blob-things with sharp teeth (two hits). Combine this with level design that slowly gets more difficult as you progress without relying too much on introducing new enemies and gimmicks, and this is the perfect example of what I look for in platformers. EDIT: The only issue I have with the mechanics is that, if you want to attack while gliding, you have to buy an upgrade first (and the upgrade doesn’t become available until after you get the item that lets you glide, so you may not realize it at first); without it, you have to let go of the glide button, then attack, then push the button again. Not realizing that was what resulted in my first death.

The difficulty builds a bit too slowly at first (even though the second boss has an attack that might be unavoidable, it took until the fourth level’s boss before I really started having trouble), and then the difficulty kinda flat-lines again as you get near the end (the Demon King’s second in command is probably the hardest boss in the game, even harder than the Demon King himself), but as I wrote in my post about Sutte Hakkun, I can forgive an inconsistent difficulty curve as long as the game actually has one in the first place. My biggest issue is with the Tower of Time: not only does the difficulty randomly drop for this entire level, but the challenges are centered around moving objects, so there’s more waiting here than any other point in the game. In fact, there are blue crystals in this level (and only this level IIRC) that transport you across a fixed path at a fixed speed, with one room having, like, six of these and all you do is wait for the previous crystal to spawn you by the next one so you can hit it and wait some more.

As mentioned previously, you unlock quick-travel points and the map around half-way through the game, but you also NEED to use these to go back to certain spots with your new-found abilities. What’s worse: if you want to know where those locations are, you have to solve riddles! You might think “oh, I probably only have to check all the split paths that are very clearly indicated on the map” but NOPE; at least one of the items you need is in a location that you’ve already visited, and is quite a few screens away from the nearest split path. Luckily, for when the riddles aren’t super obvious (or get solved by accident), the game gives you the option to pay in-game currency to add a marker on your map for where you need to go next, and the game is surprisingly good at keeping up its fast pace despite all the backtracking.

As for the fetch quests themselves, it is a little annoying having to backtrack (especially if you miss something the second time), but the game actually changes up the level design of all previous levels slightly in order to keep things interesting and keep the difficulty curve from going completely flat. There are even a couple new levels that you’ll inevitably stumble across during these fetch quests.

EDIT 2: One of the new levels is part shoot ‘em up, but it’s not that great since it only has, like, three different enemy types for the shooter segments (and only one of those enemy types actually shoots at you), and all of them take quite a few hits to kill (unless you use a charge attack, since that can defeat and pierce multiple enemies). These shoot ‘em up segments are only in this one level and are broken up with more platforming segments. On one hand, it’s a gimmick that doesn’t get much chance to be built upon (which does happen a few times in the game), but on the other hand, since there isn’t much to these segments in the first place, it may be for the best that they weren’t stretched out longer. This is probably the second worst level (right after the Tower of Time).

Beyond that, there really isn’t much else I can say. The fetch quests and riddles are annoying, and while they do take up a decent chunk of the game, everything else is so well done that I recommend the game overall if you’re a fan of linear action platformers (and maybe Metroidvanias).

Potential spoilers: The game represents time travel with NES 8-bit being the present and Genesis/Mega Drive 16-bit being the future. Honestly, this aesthetic choice for the split-world gimmick isn’t that uncommon; heck, I’m pretty sure there was even an SMBX level that did this. I don’t mind this too much; I’m really only typing this to express my mild disappointment that the “corrupted future” (the one level that’s supposed to take place even further ahead in time than the 16-bit future) isn’t 2.5D 32-bit (or even full 3D). That would be an actual twist on this gimmick, and something I’d like to see attempted. Oh well, at least the final phase of the final boss was made of Super FX polygons, though I’m equally disappointed that it was just a quick time event instead of a proper second phase (especially since the first phase recycled that Ocarina of Time final boss tennis mechanic, which even if it had merit for its time, is incredibly overused by now). Oh well.

Oh man, all of you who pay money for games are getting ripped off. My PC backlog has more than doubled from promotional giveaways alone, and quite a few of them are high profile releases, too (though I can’t say too much since I bought Axiom Verge a few months before that game became free).

I do know about the japanese PS4 box art, but I played the PC version

This is a hack ‘n’ slash. For attacks, you start off with a standard 3-hit combo (which just requires hitting the left face button) and a gun, whose ammunition is refilled by performing melee hits on enemies and scenery (hold L2 to aim and push R2 to shoot, but you can’t move and shoot at the same time). Be careful not to hit L1 when trying to shoot, though, because that uses one of your finite health-refilling items; then again, there are a bunch scattered throughout the game, so even if you do make that mistake, you’ll probably pass up a third of them due to having full health and max refills stocked (you can hold three at once). You can also push the bottom face button to dash in the direction you’re facing, which sends you forward the same amount each time. Hollow Knight had that same type of dash mechanic, and I don’t get it. Personally, I prefer Mega-Man-X-style dashing where you have to hold the button, but you can let go whenever you want to stop so you’re not forced to go the entire distance each time.

Firstly, I should state that, rather than being linear like other hack ‘n’ slash games, this game has four main areas (one for each cardinal direction), each with their own unique enemies, difficulty curve, and boss. Each area begins with just enough empty rooms to make you think you might be playing a walking simulator before slowly introducing enemies and getting more complex. While each area is mostly linear, there are branches that lead to their own linear segments, and reaching the end of one of these segments gets you a purple triangle. You need four triangles from each area combined with the pillar you activate shortly after beating the area’s boss in order to access the final area, which cuts out all those unnecessary combat parts and focuses exclusively on the empty rooms until you reach the final boss. If you end up short on triangles, there’s an NPC near the end of each of the four main areas who will mark their locations on your map. Aside from all the empty rooms, I think all of this was executed well, though there are some optional doors that require 8 triangles from an area to unlock, but you never get all 8 locations marked on your map (EDIT: this is an issue because the game sometimes hides split paths behind scenery that would otherwise be solid tiles). Also, whenever you get your fourth triangle from an area, the game plays the exact same cut-scene all four times; we get it, you saw the box art for Akira, now let me play the game.

As for level design, credit where it’s due: this is a hack ‘n’ slash with ACTUAL LEVEL DESIGN! I was beginning to think it couldn’t be done, but the madmen actually pulled it off. Sure, the core game-play still revolves around defeating enemies in a room to progress, but now the rooms have, like, holes you can fall in (but you can’t walk off; only dashing gets you over a ledge), or little barricades you can walk behind to avoid enemy projectiles. Sometimes, there are even invulnerable turrets that come out of the ground and shoot at you until either you’re out of range or you unlock the way forward. Is it used to its full potential? Far from it. Are there times where the arenas are basically just fields with seemingly-randomly placed barricades? Yes; quite a few, in fact. Are the pitfalls often shunted to the edges, essentially making them glorified arena boundaries instead of proper stage hazards? Also yes. BUT, does the addition of these elements make a positive impact on the overall experience, resulting in scenarios that simply don’t exist in most other hack ‘n’ slash games? Absolutely. My favorite part is a vertical hall in the north area where you have to dash upward across small platforms while enemies are shooting at you from the sides and flying enemies can swoop down at you; it really is a perfect example of what the game could’ve been like if these elements were expanded upon more, but it also made me wish I could control the character with the D-pad since trying to dash upward or downward with the stick would sometimes result in me dashing slightly to the side of the platform and falling down, but no, the game apparently NEEDED a button to make the protagonist sit down without any other effect or purpose. No, don’t bother using those extra four buttons for quality-of-life features that could also pave the way for more complex level design; what this game really needs is to polish the surface level details like atmosphere!

Speaking of the atmosphere, the game tries to get its story across without any text, which is fine enough, but when the game is perfectly comfortable using text to tell me how basic controls work and how to use the warp pads, why won’t the game tell me what the difference is between the sword I already have and the new sword I just got? Or what about the difference between the dash attack in the sword shop and the dash attack in the dash shop? The worst example of this is probably the charge attack: the preview only shows the larger-ranged slash, not the fact that you have to use a normal slash first, then hold the button to charge it, so the only clue you have pre-purchase that this power-up is actually completely useless in this fast-paced game is the tiny little button icon below the preview that fills with a pink bar. Pro tip: if you play this game, the first power-up you’ll want to buy is the one that lets you absorb projectiles while dashing (but sometimes it doesn’t work because maybe it only absorbs certain types of projectiles; who knows, the game never tells you). Then, buy the one that lets you dash again if you hit the dash button right after finishing your previous dash, not because of its potential uses in battle, but so you can get past the empty parts of the game quicker (if you dash too many times in a row, your character will slide forward a bit after stopping, sometimes right into a pit). After that, buy one of the dash attacks, then ignore the northern shops and focus on capacity upgrades like more gun ammo or more health-refill-pack slots.

With that said, my biggest issue with the game is with the combat. On one hand, the combat is fast paced: actions happen the moment you push the button, and enemies don’t have invincibility frames, so there’s no waiting to do more damage in that regard. However, aside from walking, everything you do results in a quarter-to-half-second delay before you can do anything else, and in a game all about reacting to attack tells as soon as possible, this can often result in times where you react in time, but your character doesn’t. Example: the moment you fire a shot or swing your sword, you see the enemy wind up for an attack, so you push the dash button, but your character doesn’t move, so you push it again, but still nothing and now you’ve taken a hit. This is especially annoying for the boss fights since they’re the type of bosses you can damage at any point in the fight (as opposed to the ones where you just avoid the boss’s attacks until it stops and shows its weak point); moments that could have been an opportunity for skilled players to get another melee hit in instead just become another pause in the pattern as you wait for when you can actually attack it (looking at you, west boss). Also, you don’t have invincibility frames, either, so if you get hit with a powerful attack that knocks you on the ground, you can easily be attacked again before you can do anything about it. Luckily, attacks that stun you aren’t too common.

Overall, while I do have issues with mechanics and game-to-player communication, this is easily the best hack ‘n’ slash game I’ve ever played. If you’re a fan of hack ‘n’ slash games, or even a fan of dungeon design form the Legend of Zelda games, I recommend checking this game out.

P.S. The west area has trees, and since the game has a top-down view, enemies can be behind the trees, meaning you may not even know they’re there until after you get hit.

Looking for a game you can play in very short bursts? Well, this is one of them

This is why I don't like stylized fonts. Is it SKY RACE? CXY PCACC? SKY RACC? I had to look at the e-manual to see that it's name is SKY PEACE.

This is a runner. After picking a level and one of two playable characters, you’re sent hurtling through the stages automatically, and the only control you have is where to move on an invisible 3x3 grid in an attempt to avoid the hazards and collect the coins and jewels. To move to a specific space on the grid, you either hold the circle pad in that direction or hold the face buttons in that direction; letting go returns you to the center. The more coins and jewels you collect without taking damage, the higher your score multiplier increases, and the faster the level gets. Get hit even once, and you lose that score multiplier and a bit of health (though the level does slow down). However, you can often find shield items in the levels that let you take a hit without the aforementioned effects happening. Also, once per stage, the character you don’t pick will fly in and give you a super power-up which will cause you to charge forward really fast, defeating all enemies and collecting all coins in your way until it runs out.

There isn’t much that can be said about this game other than it’s really short. There’s a practice stage and 10 levels, and each one will only take a couple minutes to beat on a successful run (though dying means you have to start the stage from the beginning). The speed can be hectic sometimes, but it never really gets challenging until the final stage, which is where I first died. Each stage usually introduces one new enemy type, so the game has more variety than a few of the more ambitious titles I’ve played. My least favorite part of the game are the whirlwinds: they send you forward and knock out any enemies you hit for the next second, but you can’t adjust your position if you hit one, so even if you see a jewel, the game won’t let you get it. Speaking of the jewels, sometimes, the jewel is the same color as the background, meaning you won’t notice it until it’s too late. There are also achievements, so that will be a bonus for completionists.

With that said, even if you’re just a casual fan of runners, I’d say this is worth the one dollar asking price; just keep in mind that it’s only really worth it if you find that you only have a couple minutes to play games because this is one you can burn through quickly.

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