Sometimes, a product is more than the sum of its parts, even when all those parts are things you individually can't handle. Last time a game managed to surpass a pile of genres I couldn't stand, it was Unholy Heights (a combination apartment management sim/tower defense game). Now I can throw Count Lucanor on the pile.

It's an adventure game with a hefty splash of horror and stealth-based "you can't defend yourself, so hide from things". I can't stand stealth games and have no stomach for horror (anxiety's a bitch), and yet everything about this was just charming.

Well, except for the blood and guts and cannibal not-mom. Those are less charming.

Regardless, for a game all about skulking around a cursed manor in the middle of the night, trying not to get murdered by plague-masked reaper creatures while you're trying to figure out Rumplestiltzkin's name (it makes sense in context, honest) it does a pretty good job of keeping things from getting too jumpscare-ish or too defanged. It treads the line real well.

(Also, in a credit to its nature as a quasi-stealth hybrid, being spotted is rarely an instant failure condition unless you've managed to get the attention of Matadorthe Red Camerlengo, and even he can't get you if you're properly cowered beneath a table.)

It helps, a lot, that the sprite art and music are top notch.

It doesn't help at all that your character moves at a snail's pace, all the time. What I wouldn't give for a run button.

Overall, worth the buck it'd cost you on Humble Bundle right now. (Gems bundle, at the time of this writing there's a little more than 32 hours left on it.) Dunno if I'd say it's worth ten bucks, but I suppose if this sort of thing is your jam, it's not a bad investment.
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After Undertale got big, a whole bunch of games came out where a central conceit was the ability to confront your adversaries in non-violent ways. It became a trend-bubble in gaming for a little while, though it's still up to minor debate as to if it made a lasting impact or if it was just a flash in the pan.

Thing is, very few games went further with it than "do a violence" vs "don't do a violence". They gave you skill checks to avoid conflict (West of Loathing, Bioware games), or made it purely dialogue-based. Or they were things where "oh, the things you're up against aren't actually bad and just want to give you milk and cookies".

This is a lot of words to say that Renowned Explorers is the very first game I've played, maybe ever, where nonviolence is a tactical decision instead of a moral one.

Taking inspiration from the 19th century explorers of the British Empire (and the pulp fiction based off of such), Renowned Explorers is kind of like a mix of a 4X game and a standard turn-based strategy game, where you explore regions one node at a time with limited resources (there's that FTL similarity again, I don't know what to call that genre in particular), but conflicts are played out like a normal TBS.

Thing is, each of the characters you can choose in your team of three has one or more of three kinds of attacks: Aggression (aka actual violent stuff), Deceit (taunting, emotional abuse, etc) and Friendship (encouragement, compliments, ego fluffing). These three types interact constantly, and set a kind of field effect to the battle based on the tone of the fight, and one sort of action will always have the upper hand over another - violence always bowls over peace, but gets worn down and misled by trickery, which is no match for encouragement. The way your team and your opponents are both "feeling" work together to create the Mood. In other words, if both sides are boasting the powers of friendship, they're both vulnerable to sudden backstabs, whereas if one side is violent to a still-peaceful opponent, they'll have a bonus that makes them harder to subdue, that sort of thing. It's surprisingly intricate for a game where you can offer a peace treaty to a monkey.

I mean, I don't really know what to say about it that isn't oddly detached "reviewer-ese" or just me saying "hey this game is good and if you like TBS stuff maybe give it a try", but when I say that, keep in mind to take it with a slight bit of caution - the difficulty curve gets pretty sharp near the end, and the main story mode has permadeath, in a game that takes maybe 4-6 hours to push through if you're working at a brisk pace. It can be frustrating to lose progress like that, and lives (or "Resolve", as it's called in-game) are hard to get more of in the span of the game. You lose one every time one of your characters is KO'd or disheartened, and can lose them for failing particularly harsh random events, too, so it's kind of rough.

Definitely a game you could put the time into to learn how to master, though.
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What happens when Oregon Trail meets FTL, they have a baby, and that baby becomes fascinated with the subtle charms of a bag of dice?

Yeah, that's this game. Honestly, I have no better ways to describe it. It's about three parts Star Trek tropes, two parts Oregon Trail resource management, and fifteen parts RNG.

How is it like FTL then, you might ask? That's easy, the FTL similarities come in two forms:

1) You choose your next destination from a spiderweb-like set of branching paths, though in Oregon Trail style you can only ever go forward, never double back, and
2) Your ship is constantly on fire and crew members are dying hideously.

Past that it's little more than a series of skill/RNG checks at each destination, with good/bad random encounters between them. You pick a crew of four members generally named as bootleg sci-fi characters (yeah, the game embraces its funy, though I admit I had a bit of a chuckle at the Borg Analog refugee's name, Seven of Eleven) with stats distributed amongst five qualities: Combat, Tactics, Diplomacy, Science, and Bravado (the latter being your ability to Leeroy Jenkins your way into and out of scenarios in one piece). At every junction/skill challenge, you're asked to pick a few responses based on the scenario, each keyed to a different stat (or, rarely, all keyed to the same stat with different penalties for failure). Each point you have in that stat changes another negative result on the RNG wheel to a positive, and once you run out of negatives you can change (you can't remove critical failures, and there's always at least one) you start changing the positives to critical successes. Thus, a lot of the "strategy" of the game is "reduce how much you can get screwed over by luck via jacking your stats up as high as possible and favoring your high stats in choices". It's a pretty simplistic game, but that also means it's a nice little casual romp, albeit one that is far more about rolling a dice and praying the RNG favors you this once.

And speaking of the funy, the jokey references and crap - remember back in Saturday Morning RPG's writeup where I mentioned that one of the ways to do it right was to own it as hard as you can? Yeah, Orion Trail does that. Everything is holograms and synthetic food, there are several scenes which poke at the concept of "space typhoid/dysentery/cholera" and how those are totally different than the earth versions, honest, one of your necessary resources is redshirts, which act as a buffer protecting your actual important crewmembers from getting hurt (and yes, every last one of them dies with a Wilhelm Scream), even the nudge-nudge-wink-wink Geico Gecko joke turns out amusing because it turns out "saving you money on your insurance" means "the space lizard mafia will only break your legs a little if you don't pay your 'protection money'". It takes the references and plays around with them, as opposed to just going "HEY LOOK, A THING".

Also, you can have a bear as your captain. More space games need Captain Space Bear.

My one complaint is that it's going for $8 on Steam, and with only five "maps" to go through, that's maybe a bit too pricy for it. Wait for it on sale, as usual.
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I've been trying to keep up with this project, I really have. And I'm technically not behind if we consider the year starting when I started this, so I don't feel like I can really complain. I'm 4 games behind "current" by my tracking, and have been so consistently for about three months, thanks to a combination of seasonal depression, life stress, and an obsession with phone games and games I've already played to death for years.

But I've been slacking on one thing I said I'd do, and that's chronicling the games that get the better of me, that I give up on. I haven't mentioned a single one, though it's happened several times. So, instead, I'll go down all of the "no, fuck you" in detail here.

HOLY POTATOES! A WEAPON SHOP?!
There wasn't really anything wrong with this one (well, there were several things wrong) but it just failed to keep me interested; I got bored and wandered away. Aside from leaning pretty hard on its funy (as an example, one of the first workers you get is a chesty green-clad potato named "Laura Craft", there is no reason for this, it just exists, because), the game also is basically an unholy fusion of idle clicker and stressful time-management simulator. Things are chill and relaxed until they aren't, but it doesn't really change the stakes any, just makes you confused as to why you should care. So I stopped caring. I may eventually go back. Maybe.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4: EPISODE I
I tried to install this mid-May, it refused to run, saying it needed the newest version of Java to run. Not the Java Runtime Environment, no, but full-blown Java.

I laughed and promptly uninstalled the game. I'm not gonna put my computer at absurd amounts of risk (Java is notorious for having security holes big enough to shove a StarFox macro-fur's dick through) just for a mediocre Sonic game. Call me when you're Sonic Mania.

ANOTHER METROID 2 REMAKE
This is a real good game but fuck trying to hit a five pixel large vulnerable spot on a large, otherwise invincible enemy. And fuck having to do this some one hundred or so times over the course of the game. Hopefully the titular metroids in Samus Returns won't be so bullcrap.

SONIC & SEGA ALL-STARS RACING TRANSFORMED
This game singlehandedly made me change my opinion about tutorials and handholding in video games. Sometimes, it's important to have any idea at all of what the fuck you're doing. ASRT doesn't tell you fuckall, which is why Steam has no less than three "YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY THE GAME, HERE'S HOW" guides on its servers. On top of that, I suck at racing games and was expecting this would have as gentle a learning curve as Sonic Riders Zero Gravity.

Needless to say, I was not given such.

LOOT HOUND
I went as far as I could through this until it became obvious that I would need to grind tens of thousands of experience points, 400 or 500 at a time, to get any further. Then I used Cheat Engine to give myself that EXP. Then I realized it didn't really help the game get better.

The problem is, the game presents itself as a goal-oriented casual game; it tells you "your dog(s) can find things, go find things" and then it promptly shrugs and becomes... a dog-walking simulator. The dogs in Loot Hound are incredibly realistic, which is to say that they don't do anything you want them to do, pee constantly, and end up leading YOU around instead of the other way around. It doesn't help that the "loot" starts out in apparently predetermined spots, but that those spots are maddeningly hard to find, especially when your dog wants to bark at a squirrel or pee on a bush or piss off a security guard. Not helping matters either is the fact that levels become vast expanses of flat green or flat white after a while and it becomes incredibly hard to orient yourself.

I know for a fact I played this wrong. I played it as a game to be beaten and it put me in the doghouse. If I just treated it like a dog-walking simulator I would probably not feel ripped off of the buck fifty that chrono.gg asked for it.
This started off as a pretty innocuous 3D physics platformer. You run around with a booster rocket, a rock-cutting laser, and a steel cable, and you tear apart rocks and move them around.

Then the underpants came out.

See, apparently the plot of the story is that two brothers, Tiny (that's you) and Big (the main antagonist) are fighting over a pair of underpants they inherited from their grandfather. These pantaloons go on your head and grant you magical powers and to be quite honest, Big is kind of a douchecanoe.

Thus, you get to the third level (out of six) and suddenly the rest of the game ends up involving dodging rocks being violently hurled at your face (or cutting them in mid-air with your laser, but that's a lot harder) as a powermad little man with tighty-whiteys on his noggin tries to squish you with the landscape. But it's still a physics platformer and you're expected to carve up the landscape yourself to use as platforms over bottomless pits.

It's a relatively short game, but it was still a little long for my tastes, as it had every last one of the problems endemic to the 3D platformer genre - the camera was constantly an adversary, the controls were both too touchy and wildly imprecise entirely depending on how fidgety I needed them to be, and quite honestly, I had some hitbox issues where something would whiz past my head and despite missing me entirely, my little man would freak out and die.

It has good music, at least! And if you can handle the starched briefs aesthetic it's a nice game to look at. Definitely worth a look if that sort of game is your thing.

Sadly, that sort of game is not my thing and the last hour or so of a three hour game was spent screaming and cursing.
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You know, I think I'd actually be a little concerned if Sonic Mania was a perfect game.

That's not to say it's bad! In fact, it's very, very good. Astounding, even, and worthy of the hype of being "a return to the golden days" that people cry about. But it's got flaws. It's got flaws in the same way Sonic CD has flaws, or Sonic 2, or even the sacred calf of S3+K. Flaws that may detract from the whole, but the whole is just so solid that even with its warts it's still a cut above the standard, or even the exceptional.

So let's get the flaws out of the way first: I find myself sincerely questioning if Sega has forgotten how to make an enjoyable, interesting boss. Then, I look back at some of the worst bosses of the Genesis era (Metropolis Zone, Lava Reef Zone, pretty much any boss stage in Sonic CD) and I instead question if Sega ever knew how to make good boss fights, or if the entertaining/memorable ones are just flukes. There's a few good flukes here, for sure, but oh man are there some stinkers - including the return of several less than enjoyable bosses from earlier Genesis games.

Like reviews have already complained about, the lack of continues is a bit offputting if you're not great at games, because even if you only have to clear two levels on three lives to get to the next save point, the levels are significantly longer than Genesis fare and you could lose a good 10-15 minutes just by wiping on a boss. Maybe either get rid of a lives/game over system (think Super Meat Boy) or make autosaves at every Act instead of every Zone, if you're gonna do this.

The only other flaw I found worthy enough of bitching about openly is a minor location spoiler, but the least spoilery form is that they took the worst gimmick from Sonic & Knuckles, put it in the worst stage from Sonic 2, and whoever decided that was a good idea should be punched in the face.

Now for the positives: It is absolutely gorgeous. The animations are fluid, the stages vibrant, and the soundtrack is goddamn fantastic. As soon as a find a way to procure the soundtrack, it's going on my short playlist that never leaves the phone no matter what.

Outside of the bosses, I actually felt the level design was amazing in a way you just didn't get from 2D Sonics made by DIMPS, a way that people thought was lost after S3+K. (It turns out it was never lost, DIMPS just really sucks at making levels. I went through the entire game and the only time I fell into a bottomless pit in this was when I was exploring places I shouldn't be, they weren't constant hazards like it seemed was "standard" now! Amazing.) Every level has a very distinct, intentional nostalgia to it, while still being its own unique creature - even the remade levels are new regardless of how it may seem at first shake. The game was very clearly made by people who care, who love the series, and who know what made the Genesis games work.

If you told me Mania was supposed to be Sonic Generations 2D, I would believe you. It turns out that someone out there at least remembers why people keep coming back to the Genesis games.

I'm sure people out there hate it. Those people can go sit in their No Fun Allowed corner and be angry and unhappy. Even if I got annoyed at parts of this, I loved it and I'm glad I got it. It was worth the wait.

EDIT: Apparently the Steam version has some stupid DRM drama going on right now and can't be played in offline mode? Caveat emptor if that's a thing you do; it's on pretty much every current console at least if you want to avoid that minefield.
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God. It's been forever since I played Kingdom of Loathing. A few minutes ago I checked and yeah, my account is three accounts are still there, as if I'd never left. In a way I haven't. KoL's stamina-styled "adventures" mechanic and push-button-recieve-bacon gameplay were basically my gateway drug into things like the gacha hell mobile games I play now. That's why, when I heard that the KoL folks did an actual game, that you play, on steam instead of in a browser? I had to check it out.

I had the game open two minutes and I found a book in my bedroom titled "Walking Stupid". I read it, and I unlocked an entry in the Gameplay Options titled "Stupid Walking". I proceeded to crawl, goose-step, and jig my way across the entire game, because that is what kind of game this is.

To be honest, a lot of it is basically just "what you would get if you made a Kingdom of Loathing game in RPGMaker". There's walking around, poking at things, talking to people (with skill checks thankfully spelled out for you most of the time! That's refreshing) and a turn-based combat system when things get to fighting. It's relatively short but also pretty crunchy and full of little tidbits and alternate ways of doing things. There's replay value here, is what I'm saying, and the game itself admits that its ending is only there so that the game can have an ending for the people who care about that sort of thing. (Which I do. I appreciate that.)

I liked it. Then again, I think I was exactly the audience for it. I had a chuckle to learn that there is Horse Armor DLC... that is only available through the KoL store, instead of through Steam. Horse Armor is a joke that's been dead for so long that it's vaguely amusing again, and something about the enthusiasm in this style of writing is just endearing to me.

If you don't mind dropping $11 on a black-and-white game with stick figures, this is probably your best option for that. You can literally play it until the cows come home. (The cows already Came Home, they tell you that in the first five minutes of the game. What they don't tell you is why the cows are now eldritch hellbeasts. That's for you to find out on your own!)

Yeah, this is kind of my jam unashamedly. I kind of marathonned a run and am now up about eight hours later than my sleep schedule normally had me up. Oops.
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There is a single player mode to this, or rather a mode where you play against AI opponents. You can continue to do this to earn digital packs of cards and the like.

I did it. I did all of it. I may have gotten hooked on the TCG again. I may have just self-consciously put down one of those shiny plastic flip-coins they package in starter decks in order to grab my fidget cube instead to properly ...uh... fidget with. I blame TieTuesday for this newly-remembered addiction.

Still. There is a single-player mode, and I played it. I'm counting it even though there is not a "victory credits" or "ending" past a like, two second conglaturation.

It plays surprisingly solidly as a computerized frontend/server for an originally made-from-dead-trees card game. Things are smooth and relatively inoffensive, and the gameplay balance is just as whacked as you may have remembered if you ever played the game before. It doesn't crash constantly, which I think puts it ahead of most of the YGO frontends.

A few things to note:

1) I feel like anyone who opens real life booster packs to a TCG like a goddamn packet of soy sauce needs to be arrested for packaging assault.
2) If you give me a character creator with limited customization options, I will apparently make myself look like exactly the kind of person evening news scarepieces make you afraid of trading Pokémon with.
3) This only happened because I can't play Sonic Mania yet. I paid the money, I want the gaaaaame. Whyyy, Segaaaaa. :(
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So this was an artsy little indie phone game I got off Apple's "Free App of the Week" thing (like I did previous clear Monument Valley). Hideo Kojima liked it enough to call it his personal GOTY one year.

It's something you can chew through in about an hour, if you're focused.

Still, it's an interesting little hour. You won't know exactly what's going on with these tiny silhouette film noir people, or why they're so desperate to run off with the Pulp Fiction briefcase, but you'll know quickly that it's your job to make sure they don't get died or arrested. Gameplay is essentially a sliding puzzle mixed with a moving comic book - you have to rearrange comic "panels" to present desirable outcomes, with the mindset that movement in the former panel is generally conserved to the next (if one panel ended with your tiny silhouette man climbing a ladder, they'll still be climbing in the next panel if there's a ladder present) and a few other consistent rules of motion. Later on they spice things up by letting you re-move panels you've already done things in, or rotate them instead of moving them (which can change the entire landscape of things if you're rotating a longer panel).

It's still over in about an hour, so I'm not sure I'd recommend a $4 price tag unless you have money to spare.

Really swanky music, though. The entire thing oozes aesthetic in the best way.
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I'd been in a bit of a rut with not wanting to commit to any particular game, lately, so instead I decided to throw a few darts at a board (or rather, break open a few Backloggery randomized fortune cookies - same principle as the old names-out-of-a-hat method) and grabbed the shortest-looking thing I'd drawn.

What I got was The Deer God.

The game starts on a cold open where a deer hunter has the unluckiest night ever, simultaneously getting mauled by wolves, struck by lightning, and failing to even shoot the thing he was out to bag. Then a giant glowing deer face tells him he needs to reincarnate and atone for his sins.

Suddenly he's a deer fawn. Almost immediately, an older stag unceremoniously dumps a double jump power on him (don't you know, deers are well known for being able to jump in mid-air) and sends you on your way without another word.

Yeah, this is one of those games that doesn't tell you what the hell is going on and expects you to figure it out yourself. "Press this button to charge forward and kill enemies!" it says, right before placing you near a series of non-hostile creatures. They glow red when you murder them, to indicate you did a bad. You won't know that right away, of course. However, sooner or later, you'll discover that spikes are instant death even if you walk up to them from the side, and your Glowing Cervine Deity will tell you that "your mischievious actions have earned you punishment", and you reincarnate as something else, such as a fox.

Foxes can't double jump. Foxes can't eat the various delicious berries all around. Being a fox is apparently the worst thing ever because animals don't leave corpses when they die, just magical clouds of pixels. You starve to death and die again, only to come back as a deer. Again.

You still have no idea what the hell you're supposed to be doing.

Turns out, the solution is more or less "go right". Going right solves literally all your problems. Quests will show up and get resolved. You will get abilities that mostly amount to "do damage" or "move better". You can murder hostile, predatory animals if you wish - those explode in blue pixels, which mean you did a good. Apparently that's "karma" in the deer world - don't murder anything that doesn't find you delicious.

If it weren't for platforming and the ability to occasionally solve the simplest puzzle or fight a boss, if it weren't for the threat of being not alive any more, then this would basically be a 2D walking simulator. It's pretty, it's atmospheric, it's got a nice soundtrack, but I'm still not sure what it was trying to do except "go right a bunch". Well. Go right and light yourself on fire. As a source of endless amusement, one of the special abilities you get just lights you on fire, which in turn lights anything hostile that you touch on fire. It's well known that ninjas can't catch you while you're on fire, but this is apparently also true of foxes, bears, cougars, hunters, giant rocs, giant scorpions, and porcupines. Spikes can still catch you while you're on fire. watch out for spikes. You go right long enough and you collect magical macguffins, apparently prevent the apocalypse, and can choose to either be a human or a deer with a medal for the rest of eternity. One of these options is technically an ending and the other actually is.

This was a relatively low-effort three hour clear. It was aesthetically pleasing (except when light colors got too overwhelming and I started getting eye pain), but it was very very light on the content.

I would recommend it, except it's $15 on Steam and that's way too much. If you can get it for like, a buck or two, sure, but full price is highway robbery.
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I keep telling myself "maybe I'll be less negative in these writeups", and honestly, Ducktales Remastered tried. It tried really hard. I'd have to pull out ye old emulation to see if it was an accurate recreation of the NES game, but it sure as heck felt a lot like it... at least as far as level design goes.

Let's just say I have quite a few... issues with how jumping and rope-type objects interact in this game, and that by the end I was cussing like someone playing a Mario romhack. I'm certain the problem is my own lack of skill, at least to a 80% margin of error; either way, I sucked bad enough that the endgame had me starting to rage out even on the easiest difficulty, where you get thankfully infinite lives.

(I tried to play this on the medium difficulty at first. I regret this because when you continue from the start of a stage, you have to sit through ALL the cutscenes again, or have to pause to skip them. Either way, it's kind of a cumbersome thing when you only have three lives and very few ways to increase them.)

Either way, it is what it is. The voicework can seem a bit unenthused, and poor Alan Young was showing his age (may he rest in peace), but it was a remake of an NES game for a modern crowd. It wouldn't be too bad for five or ten bucks, and I could see someone even getting the full $20's worth out of it.

In other words, even with its flaws, it was still enjoyable enough as a game. Definitely a passing score, whatever that entails.
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Never before have I had an experience almost ruined by a single awful segment. It only stands to reason that it would come from a Sonic game.

For 95% of the game, Sonic Generations is fun, enjoyable, and even if it's not perfect, it's close enough that you can excuse the occasional physics bugs or jaunts into bottomless pits. The remaining 5% is the final boss.

The final boss is a culmination of every bad Super Sonic final boss the entire series has had. It's overdesigned, visually cluttered, has "helpful" ""tips"" chirping in your ear every five seconds, has a Zelda/Pokemon-like low health chime when you dip down to even 30 rings, and has a whole bunch of extra commands that are effectively worthless when the entire fight boils down to holding down the X button and dodging objects for two to five minutes.

It is, in its purest essence, a 3D version of Doomsday Zone. Except unlike Sonic 3 & Knuckles, this isn't fresh and new and unique, this is the same formula the series has done for 17 years.

Please, Sega. I get wanting your magical glowy death powerup to be the lynchpin to a final confrontation, but this isn't how to make a climax. Please consider what you can do to make the final bosses in Mania and Forces not suck eggs like this. You've got literally every other part of the formula ironed out.










it doesn't even have the cheesy, hype-as-shit buttrock
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Sometimes I don't want a game that is a "good" or "enriching" gameplay experience, sometimes I just wanna poke at some casual Big Fish-style shovelware shit in an afternoon.

RiseFall of the New Age is the latter.

This was your standard "be a pixel-hunting kleptomaniac, rub objects against other objects, watch things explode" deal, with a few hidden object puzzles for assembling disguises or getting past puzzle locks that were just. Hidden object puzzles. (Who designs doors like that?) It's about a luddite cult trying to drive an industrialist country into the dark ages, your usual Dungeons & Dragons low-magic stuff. You play as Marla, the Master Of Unlocking. (no, seriously, there's no less than 15 lockpicking minigames here). The cult has kidnapped your brother, and you are a bad enough dudette to team up with some swashbuckling hobo to rescue him.

Honestly, this wasn't bad... or rather, it was increasingly bad, but in a good way. Somewhere around the 1/3rds mark, the quality control on the script went straight into the garbage disposal, subtitles didn't match voices, and voices got progressively more phoned in, culminating in a villain deadpanning out "mom. mommy." as he is defeated. Your main antagonist goes for most of the game by the pseudonym "Master Lame". There's also the fact that the game throws a fake ending at you, kicking you to the main menu and saying "CLEARED THE GAME, HERE'S SOME STUFF" without actually. You know, concluding the plot or anything.

That said, there was exactly one point that I screamed in frustration and used the game's in-game "I suck at this, let me cheat" option. THIS IS NOT HOW MACHINERY WORKS.

I think I got this for a buck off an IndieGala bundle. It's about worth that; it's your average shovelware quality adventure title. It's good for what it is, but I wouldn't expect the $7 worth of game Steam is asking you to pay on normal price.
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I won't lie: I got into this one the exact same way I got into Undertale.

That is to say: I didn't even know this game existed until I started seeing a bunch of porn of one of the characters (similarly to Undertale, it's an important but ultimately unfocused-on character) and then I started looking into what it was.

What is it? Well, it's kind of a weird hybrid of a town builder and an action RPG; think Soul Blazer, or Dark Cloud. (It's done by the Zelda 3DS port guys, so I'm sure that there's a bunch of seams you can push a semi-truck through for speedrunners.) You're plopped in the middle of a world that has, since ancient times, been reduced to a barren husk of a Desert World by sentient despair and negativity known (so originally) as Chaos. You're a special type of seedling (think 'plant people') able to create an Oasis, a fertile, lush outpost in that desert.

In fact, yours is actually the last one. Turns out bad vibes are on an upswing. So you have to build Something out of damn near nothing.

What follows is a lot of running around hitting stuff with swords and recruiting people into coming to crash at your place. Fellow Seedlings can be brought in to set up shops or tend your garden, and other desert races can be brought in to do explorations on their own. (All of the characters you recruit can be swapped into your party, though admittedly that makes them kind of samey.)

If nothing else, the races are unique; in addition to the plant people, you have:
- Drauks (lizard/dragon folk, aka "my fetish???", use spears and enjoy fashion and honor)
- Serkah (weird chufty nomadish folk with... scorpions for heads? No seriously, their heads are cycloptic scorpions that move their pincers in place of a mouth. Either way, they're your gourmands and use the big hammers)
- Lagora (bunny people, enjoy "novelties" (read: toys) and use double blades for maximum edginess)

and along with the recruitable characters, you also have Noots. Noots are the best thing about this game. They're penguin/owl hybrids who dress fancy, can't talk (except in chirps), and live only to be The Perfect Consumer. They are a race of adorable Capitalism Borbs. It is the best thing and if we don't have plushies made I will be sad.

...right, I'm rambling. The game isn't perfect (I had a few complaints about the ability gating in some areas, as well as the fact that the game never tells you that the last few abilities are based on equipment, not skills) and the combat can be kind of hard to get a feel for, but it's real pretty. It sticks to the "desert wanderer" aesthetic and nails it hard, and while the soundtrack isn't on my top 10, it's perfectly functional for what it is. (I didn't find myself really cringing or humming any of it, so it's just sort of there.)

Is it worth the $40 it costs right now? Ehhhh.... mmmaybe. If you liked Recettear and can handle combat that's kind of fiddly and encourages hanging back and memorizing enemy attack tells, then it has a lot of potential. If you're looking for a game to scratch that Secret of Mana itch (since it was made by the guy who spearheaded that) then maybe hold off til it's on sale.

Still, I don't regret the purchase.
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First of all: sorry about the radio silence; it's been a rough month, compounded with the fact that the FF5 Four Job Fiesta began, and thus a huge chunk of my free time in June was taken up by a man named Bartzbutts. That said, things are looking better - family finally got our tax return, and with it, I got a computer that isn't twelve year old jank; the video card still needs work but I can actually run things now!

Secondly: oh yeah I beat a game.

Thing about Mystik Belle is that it's an oddball of a game. In simplest terms, it controls mostly like the "metroidvania" style of platformer (though I hate that term in particular) what with the sprawling map that you flit back and forth around as you gain mobility upgrades and the Hidden Secrets. But then you get to its puzzles, and you realize that Mystik Belle is very much a point-and-click adventure game wearing a platformer's clothing.

You play as a witch girl who is tasked with collecting the ingredients to a super important batch of witch's brew after the last batch was ruined by Science Ninjas.

No, I'm not making that up. Yes, oddly, it works given the tone of the game.

But rest assured, this is essentially a point-and-click adventure game that incidentally plays sort of like Metroid. You collect all sorts of random detritus - some of it worthless, most of it not - and then smash them against things, or against each other, and watch the magic of combinatorial explosions. A relatively early puzzle involves dunking an already fragrant plant into a dumpster in order to use it as a fly magnet, distracting a chef so you can steal some tinfoil. Yeah.

The problem is, the two parts don't mesh together well. The platforming and combat is kept relatively streamlined, but that means that everything past the first boss fight boils down to "use lightning spell, win". The puzzles are standard adventure fare, but at one point I did have to crack open a map and guide to figure out where an important piece of a puzzle was... it happened to be languishing underwater, in an area I couldn't be in for more than a few seconds without instantly drowning and dying. After dying the first few times, I had let my platformer instincts kick in and say "okay, avoid water, there will be a way to breathe it later". There certainly is... immediately after the puzzle that you need to go underwater initially for.

It's still a good game. It controls well, and the spritework is fantastic. The music is bloopy in the most pleasant of ways, and honestly, you can tell that some of the staff that worked on Shantae was also apparently involved in this. It just tries to mix two things together, and instead of "you got chocolate in my peanut butter", the final product is more akin to pineapple on pizza. If it works for you, great, but it's not for everyone.

Still, a pretty 7/10 game. Not bad in the slightest.
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Sometimes, when a game hasn't aged well, you can look back at it and go "yeah, this was an Important Game, even if it did a lot of things wrong". That's what the original Super Mario Brothers was like.

Other times, you look at a game and go "I know this was an Important Game... but who in their right mind would have liked this game?" The first Metroid was one of those, but upon actually forcing my way through this, I'm just dumbfounded at how... impenetrable the very first Legend of Zelda was.

I pulled out all the stops here. I loaded up maps before I even started up the game. I save-stated my way through Money Making Game. This game was, in a way, my childhood... but it wasn't a good part of my childhood. I could never get into it like I did its spiritual successor Crystalis; it wasn't until I finally got my hands on a copy of Link to the Past that I finally understood why people liked the tiny green man who was made of glass.

This time, though, I forced my way through it. Took me about... three, four hours? I feel like it would actually be a good speedrun game. Thing is, Sonic 06 is a good speedrun game, too. Being accessible to gofast players does not necessarily mean a game is good.

For the most part, the dungeons were okay (save for one enemy, more on that later) though heavily reliant on you either knowing ahead of time where you needed to go and not trusting the map to not lie to you at every opportunity. Sure, it told you where most of the rooms were, but everything is so honeycombed together that you'll find yourself bombing walls religiously if you don't have maps beforehand. This may not be a problem, but bombs are pretty uncommon drops, and you can only hold 8 at a time for over half the game (and have to pay almost a full wallet's worth of cash to double it to an "astounding" 16). Since Link hadn't perfected the art of "poke wall with sword", you have no idea WHERE to bomb, except, apparently, fucking everywhere. Except you don't have enough bombs to do that, so you either have to grind or know ahead of time.

No, the problem is in the overworld, which is a labyrinth all its own - and that's not even getting into the two Lost Woods-style infinite-scrolling screens. This was what stymied me as a kid. I never had any idea where the fuck I was going, where I had to go next... there's such a thing as "too open", and oddly enough, a gigantic 16x8 maze with no finite start or end point? Is too goddamn open.

It's also got a heavy reliance on that whole Continuing Is Painful thing; if you die then you might as well just throw the whole thing away, since hearts are even rarer than bombs, fairies are practically nonexistent (and only fill four hearts anyway), you restart at 3 hearts regardless of how many you have, and oops, the thing that killed you takes off two hearts every time it breathes on you!

(Speaking of which: fuck darknuts, particularly of the blue variety. If an enemy is invulnerable from only one side and your main/only method of attack is at close range? don't make their movement pure RNG. kay thanks.)

But yeah. After about 30 years, I finally saved Hyrule with a little green man made of glass. I'm not doing the Second Quest. It was obnoxious enough once around.
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Sometimes a game can be made sincerely, with heart, and still feel "off". Maybe it's due to novice coding leading to shaky gameplay, maybe it's due to questionable level design, maybe something just doesn't gel. In this game's case, it's sort of all three.

Dragon (or, as it's rendered on the title screen/webpage, dʒrægɛn) is, naturally, a game about a dragon. This dragon is in a relationship, but his significant other is carted off and locked in a tower for the capital crime of being hot for a dragon. (Not making that up. It is explicitly portrayed as a "we don't want half-dragon babies, that's weird" thing.) Said dragon goes on a quest to rescue her, even though she probably doesn't need rescuing for several reasons, and you have a game.

Everything is rendered in a crayon-and-pencil way like a kid's illustrated story for school, but, well. I already touched on the human-on-dragon implications, and clearing a level leads the player character pulling a pipe out of hammer space and lighting up. One of the late-game powerups is "magic breath" that "makes enemies peaceful". Yeah, this is one of those games. That's what's so jarring through a lot of it; it's a very kid-friendly game, except for the parts where schtoinking is hinted at or where everything is about blazing it. (Ironically, Blazing Dragons was the franchise with less pot in it.)

Controls are pretty average for a platformer of its type; you've got a jump button that can be double-tapped to glide-hover Tails style, a button to breathe out fire/lightning/ice/acid/pot smokemagic, and a button for a melee attack that's got a deceptively big (but never big enough) range. In fact, the controls are probably the one thing that didn't make me head-tilt, since they're pretty snappy and responsive. Stages are presented sort of like the 16-bit Tiny Toon Adventures games, where you select individual (relatively small) maps on a world map that kind of loops around on itself, as opposed to the more Metroidvania style of a single full-game map.

But there's problems, even past the "adultness". Hitboxes are wonky as hell, especially for collision damage. After the first few levels, you'll be taking way too much damage for messing up, too, which can make some bosses kind of frustrating. Enemies often camp on ledges you can't safely land on without eating a hit, and unless you've been grinding out upgrades you're gonna need to take several hits to kill most things. Speaking of upgrades, while most of them are easily found with a little scrounging, the way to actually get them is rarely intuitive, including one that I found out later was skippable but also mandatory to defeat the final boss. I had to get a youtube video's help (hard enough on its own since nobody seems to have any interest in the game) to finally figure out that the way past an otherwise impassable barrier to said powerup was to freeze it, and then burn it.

On the plus, the interactions felt great when they actually worked. A random non-aggressive NPC starts taking photos of you? Smack the phone out of their damn hands. Charging the king's castle for a final confrontation? Well, you can wade through his forces on the high road, or you can shrug, go the scenic route, and enjoy a nice, peaceful, uninterrupted walk through a suburb. Both get you there just as well. There was plenty of attention to detail in the spritework, the game just could have used a little more attention on the level design.

I dunno. It was cute, for what it was, though I dunno if I could recommend it to people. If you don't mind the mix of aesthetic and tone, then go ahead and give it a try; its flaws are pretty minor but the game is ultimately rather short (4 hours for 100% completion, with only very minimal outside help) and relatively uninspiring. 8.8/10, too much pot.
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Never have I had a game make me go "the honeymoon is over" in quite the way this did. No, wait. Exactly one other has, and I'll reference it in this post.

Anyone who's known me any length knows I have a massive thirst for a solid, crunchy - but not too crunchy - turn-based strategy game. The trick is I'm also astoundingly picky about them. XCOM, even in its most softball of difficulties, drives me to hair-pulling frustration because I'm not fucking psychic. Fire Emblem and bores me because its characters are meant to be unique but are also as boring as any generic mooks in any tactics game ever. Disgaea focuses too much on the grind, Advance Wars puts too much emphasis on being able to churn out your units Starcraft style, and so on and so forth.

So I suppose it would really be easier to say "I have a massive thirst for the Genesis era Shining Force series". A few other franchises have scratched the itch almost as well - Atlus's Devil Survivor games, the Final Fantasy Tactics series, occasionally Tactics Ogre. Disgaea manages it if I don't fall into minmaxer hell. With that in mind, pretty much like everyone in my friends list recommended Chroma Squad to me, even though my sole experience with sentai stuff is explicitly being a pre-teen when Power Rangers came out originally.

When I first got it, I kind of rolled my eyes at the financial management aspect of it - great, I'd have to play Television Executive Simulator in order to get to the actual good game - and wandered off. On a lark, I went back to it.

And for a while, I was pleased with it. Being able to customize a team (right down to the transformation and mecha-summoning catchphrases) leads to that kind of immature glee you can only get with a twisted sort of imagination - the script was very much improved, I feel, by my teenagers with attitude screaming out "ORIGINAL CHARACTER, DO NOT STEAL" in order to turn into spandex crimefighters, and calling out "Punch it until it dies!" when they needed the giant robot to, well, punch something until it dies. The combat was a little fiddly but crunchy enough that things had a definite flow to them and it was easy to intuit when to press ahead and when to fall back. Even the "executive simulator" portions had charm, what with being able to answer fan emails and get replies about how you helped these fictional textboxes. It had the right amount of self-referential funy to have a charm to it, like, it really shows that the writers adore the genre they're homaging enough to poke fun at it every chance they get.

Then - I'm not sure when exactly, but somewhere in the last chapter or two - things started to drag. I was playing on the medium difficulty, but as I've been told that the easy difficulty is meant to be something you could fumble blindfolded through, I assume the difficulty spike is not equivalent in all difficulties.

Either way, the longer the stages took, the more I saw the flaws in the game.

Stages were either vastly too big (and filled with enemies that would plink at you from a distance in relative safety) or oppressively small (and you'd get ganged up on by 500 things).

The equipment crafting system is RNG from beginning to end - you have to use random drops, that you can also buy random booster-pack-esque boxes of, in order to get equipment with random bonuses that you may not be able to use anyway. Or you could pay five times the price for wholly mediocre storebought equipment.

The leaning on the fourth wall officially got tiresome when NPCs (named after Kickstarter backers) started declaring how glad they were to have backed a Kickstarter.

The hit chances in mecha battles are wildly weighted against you - a 95% hit chance is actually more like 70%, and heaven help you if you risk going down past 50%.

The whole thing is programmed in Unity, meaning that it would hang on my potato of a computer at exactly the worst times - generally when I needed to make an input on the mecha battles to avoid taking a Hefty Boatload of Damage.

Tokusatsu-themed jokes turned into fighting bootleg versions of Barney and the badger from that flash animation.

Literally every enemy that is brought into a battle has to walk in, one at a time, meaning almost every battle is preceded by five minutes of waiting by endgame.

The final mission violently swung back and forth between "cakewalk" and "frustratingly unfeasible" practically every other turn, culminating in a finale that was, in fact, literally unloseable. (Not that I minded that at that point.)

Suddenly, things stopped being fun by the end. I've only ever felt that quick of a turnaround before once, and that was when I tried LPing Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and finally got a good look at it, warts and all.

Just like FFTA2, Chroma Squad has a lot of work put into it, and is absolutely enjoyable if you're the kind of person who can accept that the game wants you to play it a certain way. Unlike FFTA2, Chroma Squad was made with definite love, and its flaws are more a product of slightly lopsided game balance than the game simply refusing to allow for experimentation. I appreciate that it tried, but I'm gonna be hesitant to go back to it.

I might like it better if I was the kind of person who was okay with XCOM. I'd probably like it better if every single one-shot NPC wasn't a Kickstarter backer who insisted on telling you their life story for the single mission they appeared in. I'd definitely like it better if I knew more than just Power Rangers.
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Every week, the iOS App Store showcases a "Free App of the Week", an app that they offer at a 100% discount if you get it during that week only. I've had good luck with this showcase before, given that it's how I was introduced to crunchy but minimalist FEZ-like Monument Valley, so I make a point to grab anything that halfway looks interesting there.

This week was a little fidget-game called klocki. Apparently, it's only about a buck normally, given that there's also a version of it on Steam that looks identical, as well as a vastly pared down version on Kongregate. It's weird to be giving kudos to a game I could play for free on a flash game site, but it's nice, for how light and casual a puzzle game it is.

Klocki is a game about creating unbroken lines. You swap tiles around, slide them, rotate them (all depending on the type of tile, of course) and make sure every line has a beginning and end, or forms a closed loop. Don't leave any dangling ends. Sometimes, there will be more than one color of line you have to keep connected, or shapes you have to form out of indistinct blobs. Other times, you'll have to isolate black squares to make them pinpoints. As the levels go on, you'll have to do all of these in a single stage, while trying to figure out exactly what Pipe Dream-esque path they expect you to create.

It's a very relaxing game, but also a very short game. I'd ballpark there being around 60-70 levels in total, and no indication you've cleared them all - the levels just loop around from the beginning. (Other versions have a single achievement to helpfully indicate you're done, it appears.) It's not really worth much more than it's asking, but it's not asking much at all. It's definitely worth a look if you need something low-stress to toy around with when your brain is cluttered up.
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"I had a dream. They overwrote my soul with a digital copy. They thought no one would know. And they were right."

Super Win The Game is not so much about winning, or being super. It is definitely a game, though. Kind of Zelda 2-ish, but with none of the jank that Zelda 2 had. All you do is jump in various ways (sometimes double jump, sometimes wall jump, but always jump). There's not even a run button.

It's not masocore like most single-button games; there's no Meat Boy difficulty or anything. It's more about exploring, collecting macguffins, and figuring out where to go. I did end up falling back to online maps trying to get 100%, but then I had three gems I missed and I couldn't be assed to go back and search every single area just to see where I missed some.

There's some sort of plot in the background that seems like a metaphor for something else, kind of like in things like Braid or other ~artsy~ indie games like that. It's not important, ultimately. There's a more obvious plot of "the king is a spooky skeleton, recover his heart pieces and make him not spooky any more" but it's incredibly simplistic.

I'd been looking for a good, crunchy, casual romp for a while, and SWTG scratched that itch. Probably won't do anything more once I'm bothered to 100% it, though.


EDIT:

(6:08:54 PM) Sword: /gets 100% completion, forgets to go get the trigger for the achievement for it, ends up wiping save to get missable thing right at beginning of game
(6:08:57 PM) Sword: ehhhhfuckit.
(6:09:09 PM) Sword: I'm counting that as 100% completion. :T
(6:10:45 PM) Sword: I have to admit! I regret some things.
(6:11:05 PM) Sword: "this isn't masocore", I said, right before doing the optional side content that turns into the less pleasant side of VVVVVV.
(6:14:27 PM) Sword: Like, literally, there is one set of screens that is essentially "do the first half of Veni Vidi Vici" and it's like ahahahah fuck yoooouuuuu
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swordianmaster: the crudest drawing of a sword imaginable (Default)
i am a sord lol

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