Saturday, October 26, 2013

You Are Not the Hero - Alpha Impressions

It is not everyday I see a new game that makes me want to play it now, let alone makes me want to pledge to Kickstarter. I've only ever supported 2 Kickstarter games. Sometimes when I'm not playing games I visit Steam's Greenlight section to see what developers are working on in the indie world. The title alone is what drew me to check out this game. Which is good because these days most RPGs have pretty much the same premise. You and a merry band of heroes go on an altruistic quest to save the world. We've seen it all before, except this is not what this game is about.

In You Are Not the Hero you play a young woman, named Petula who is an NPC. That's right, you play a non-playable character. You're in your house sleeping and a bunch of heroes come in and ransack your place stealing all your items while they go on their quest. Unfortunately, they've stolen your family heirloom necklace and you want it back.

You aren't here to save the world, or to vanquish evil. All you want is your necklace back from those thieving scavenger 'heroes' who think that because they're going to save the world it gives them the right to break into your home and steal your personal belongings. The concept is so logical it's funny, refreshing and a nice change of pace from all the other clique shenanigans that most RPGs are known for. It's not even complete but definitely keep a look out for this unique RPG experience.

As you go through your own adventure albeit not as grandiose as the heroes you're chasing you will have to do mundane tasks such as rescue villagers, light torches and build bridges. All the while interacting with the other NCPs and their inane requests. Each chapter has a set of requirements for Petula to master and you're even able to retry previously completed chapters anytime in your journey to get a better score. So replayability is high and doesn't require you to play through the game from the start. I tried the demo and overall thought it was pretty good for a pre-alpha build and I'm looking forward to this game's development.

This game is currently in the pre-alpha stage of development.

Try the pre-alpha demo
Back this title on Kickstarter
Vote for this game on Steam Greenlight

Friday, October 18, 2013

Unholy Heights - Bringing Together an Unholy Alliance of Management Sim and RPG

At first glance I wasn't sure what to make of this game but I tried it because I'm secretly a fan of management sims. The premise looks simple. You're the devil and you own an apartment complex. Various monsters need a place to live so they fill in vacancies in your building. Every now and then a hero or 2 comes along wanting to vanquish the devil. So you can ask your residents to fight intruders. Now that we have a general idea about what this game is about.

To add another layer you have the management aspect in which you have to buy items for your monsters to keep them happy. You also have control over the rent they pay and if your residents are happy their stats will raise making them stronger and of course your status among the monster races will rise allowing you to recruit higher tier monsters for your kingdom / building. Your main goal is to get as many tenants as possible and to make a profit. Further emphasizing that goal is that the heroes who come searching for a fight never actually try to kill the Devil. They usually just end up robbing you and killing the tenants who were foolish enough to get in their way.

When you aren't getting robbed by 'heroes' and residents aren't skipping out on the rent you might see love blossom among your monsters as they find a mate, move them in and have little monster children.You can even buy them items such as erotic cakes to help them out a bit. Now it's not all sunshine and rainbows as it's very difficult to make all the monster classes like the Devil. Your popularity between the different monster classes influences the types of creatures willing to rent a room. Some hate living near other monster classes, or dislike it when you let other residents die and of course if you don't give them a comfortable place to live. In all the devil has a tough job in juggling his residents and vanquishing heroes business so there's no shortage of things to and can be a bit of a challenge trying to please everyone.

Gameplay: (^__^) - This game is pretty casual, easy to play, tough to master. The mechanics are fairly simple and that's a good thing as you will no doubt learn different strategies on how to handle hoards of people coming to disrupt your peaceful apartment and tenants who have all sorts of quirky demands. The user interface is straightforward as well. I do wish there was more you can do in terms of monsters not getting along with each other. It seems like they just mention how they don't like other types but that doesn't prevent them from fighting on the same side. I don't know, I just guess it was a missed opportunity for more conflict.

Graphics: ^__^ - The developer kept it simple and it works. But it's nice that in your one screen you can get changing weather which a few of your monsters will have an affinity to certain weather types. The game's interface tells you everything you need to know. But for a one screen game it doesn't get boring.

Sound: ^__^ - The music is good. Although the sound effect of certain actions, like monster mating can get a bit annoying. But stuff like thunder and lightning weather sound solid.

Overall: ^__^ - I find this game fun and highly addictive. You'll spend hours playing this game trying to get that next powerful monster to take up a room, Attempting various hero quests challenges your monster's defenses. And expand your empire while trying to keep from getting robbed. It's nothing revolutionary in terms of gameplay but it is different, refreshing and mildly entertaining.

Buy It onSteam

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Morning RPG - Not Another Nostalgia Game!!

Don't let my title fool you. This game fascinated me at PAX East. I must have played it for an hour. I had no clue what it was about but I want to buy it. Sure everything about it makes me nostalgic for a childhood I haven't experienced in a while but that's exactly why you'd want to buy it. It was back in April when I started this review. Instead of writing a first impression pieceI knew the developer was releasing on PC so I kept tabs on the port development for the past 5 months. I don't have it on iOS and won't be getting an Ouya anytime soon so I was really excited when I saw this on Steam Greenlight.

For a while the developer went pretty much radio silent everywhere about progress and that made me apprehensive that this game would even be completed for PC release but if I've posted this review that means by some divine intervention this was finally released for PC. Even more miraculous is that I still decided to buy it after constant empty release date promises from the developer. If you are a developer reading this blog please know that gamers will love you more if you communicate with your audience. Contrast is being released a whole year after it was Greenlit on Steam but the fans didn't mind too much because the development team constantly responded and kept us that were interested in the loop.

Now onto the game.

The nostalgia aspect is bleeding through the ears in this title. From the moment you launch an episode you see an old analog TV with the blue tracking VCR screen. Then you're given a magical Trapper Keeper notebook and the list goes on and on. This game doesn't just make old video game and TV references from the 90s. It makes full blown life parodies of my childhood. A nice thing about this game is it doesn't sacrifice gameplay for comedy or parody.

There are about 4 to 5 episodes. Episode 1 was a little more than an hour. It has full controller support and you can switch between keyboard and 360 control on the fly. I noticed to get the controller buttons to show up in the menus you have to manually apply it in the settings. This is something you'll have to set each time you play or else the game thinks you're playing with a keyboard and during mini games in the fight sequence it becomes a guessing game of which button is bound to what key. It's not a game breaker, just a mild annoyance.

Now on to the fight sequences. This game uses a turn based fight system. Your character, Marty, has pretty weak basic attacks so I find myself normally charging up the multiplier before issuing an attack. That way you are bound to kill at least 1 enemy in a single shot. So what ends up happening is you'll just charge and spam special attacks, rinse and repeat. Thank goodness there's 3 ways to charge up. You've got a button masher charge, gauge based and auto-charge, which doesn't give as big a multiplier as the other two. This is great as button mashing can get very tiring in a short while.

Fighting becomes more of a tedious repetitive thing as you only have so many abilities available per match. There is a cheat menu if you pause during battle but considering purchasing cheats is disabled I'm guessing it was a leftover from the iOS version that someone forgot to edit out the PC version.

Each chapter's story is self contained and loosely has anything to do with the previous. Marty is mainly fighting the army of his nemesis Commander Hood but he faces various problems and dangers in each episode. The locations are just as varied as the missions. You'll be in a cave trying to stop a wedding in one episode to school then riding around town to stop the sinister plan of just about everything that threatens your home of Shadow Valley. This small town is prone to as much danger as Sunnydale (Buffy reference) and you're the only one capable of saving it.

Graphics: (^__^) - You know there's something to be said about a game that uses 8 bit characters with a rich and vibrant 3D rendered environment. Not exactly sure what but it's pretty damn beautiful. The developers did well to not go overboard with the retro style graphics. It sets it apart from all the other full blown retro parodies out there.

Controls: ^__^ - I enjoy playing a game with controller support but also can switch to keyboard on the fly. Now if the devs could fix the interface to automatically show gamepad buttons instead of keyboard controls in the menus I'd be set. Other than that the game responds beautifully and makes intuitive use of a simple layout.

Overall: (^__^) - Yes this game is a port but is was done well and I think this makes a better PC game than iOS any day. It just happened to be made for iOS first. What you've got in this neat package is a game full of 90s nostalgia, parodies, funny dialog, chock full of achievements and it has an Endless and Arena mode to add another level of gameplay after you're done with the main story. Giving you more reasons to go back after you've played through the main episodes.

Buy it Now: Desura, DRM Free
Vote for it on Steam Greenlight

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Final Episode and Overall Thoughts

The final chapter of the Cain Killer has finally been released. This comes in conjunction with Cognition finally being released on Steam. So I thought I'd do another run through the series again and replay the entire story as a whole. Episode 4 starts out with a bit of back story. I understand the idea of the prologue, it's to understand the background around the main case of the story. If you forgot what this series was about it does a good job of catching you up to speed. Considering the episodic nature of the game and how it took a year to get the entire story out its pretty integral to where we are now.

As I'm playing the forth episode and thinking about this background information now I appreciate that the developer to some extent didn't put it in the first episode to get the player all sorts of invested in this story. Another thing to note is that as the game progressed in the final episode we see the addition of a relationship meter to gauge Erica's trust with the other characters. This is entirely new and I'm not sure how necessary as it's a late mechanic addition. The way people respond to you or things they will do is directly connected to how full the gauge is. I noticed this doesn't drastically change the outcome of the story with the exception of two scenes. Both of which are near the end.  Would have been nice to have this in Episode 1 and carried throughout.

One of the biggest issues I had was the lack of character development in the first two chapters of this story. Erica for lack of a better term was a bit of a cold bitch. She even admits to it in Episode 2 so at least we were in agreement there. She went around half cocked, without much care for those around her who weren't in perilous danger. Character flaws though are good and it didn't make her any less likable as a character.

Almost all the characters from Episode 3 return and we backtrack a little bit into time before the events of Episode 1 but unlike Episode 3, for the most part you are playing entirely in the present. Once again making her return is Cordelia, however it's now present her instead of her past self. Thank goodness the developers fully fleshed out her character in Episode 3. The writing for this game is excellent. Sure you aren't going on an epic adventure with an barely legal teenager to save the world, so the quest isn't drawn out and doesn't bore you to death. There are certain scenes where you'll ask "why did I pick up that random pile of drugs" or is there a reason why the two main characters are kissing. Which even though is hot doesn't really have any purpose other than fodder for fanfiction  but other than those one or two things just about everything you find will be connected in some way and actually useful to you getting one step closer to the end.

The ending, like everything else was also very nicely done. There aren't any glaring plot holes, maybes, or  "what if" moments that leave things open to interpretation. Cognition does a good job in that what you see is what you get. There's room for another Erica Reed thriller but for the most part the developers did well in giving a complete adventure experience in four episodes. I found this game incredibly enjoyable. Even if ultimately your choices don't matter I still felt fully invested in the hunt for the Cain Killer. Down to the last fight and a heartfelt ending.

Story: (^__^) - It's a good length of game for the price. You get puzzles that make sense a tough as nails protagonist and a good story. If you've played any of Tell Tale games this would fit nicely into that group only it's not based on any current intellectual property and the story is at least 4 hours longer compared to those kinds of games.

Sound: ^__^ - The score is awesome and the voice acting is done really well. Boston accents and all. Episode 4 gets a slightly more sinister soundtrack that gives this episode a darker tone but it's good that you aren't listening to the same thing for 4 straight episodes. Erica's evolved so much, naturally the music should evolve too.

Overall: (^__^) - I'm really glad I bought this game. Excellent story, characters, music. If you're into adventure games this is something you'll enjoy. If you like games that don't have zombies this is something you'll enjoy. Even if you do like games with zombies you should take a break in between killing the undead and play this game. I look forward to whatever titles Phoenix Online Studios are developing next and hope they return with another incredible story for Erica in the future.

Buy It On: Steam, DRM Free Direct, Indiegamestand 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Costume Quest - Reminding you of a Time When Halloween was Charming and Cute

Double Fine has done alright with this gem of a game. Don't let the cuteness of the characters or the story fool you. Costume Quest is fun for children of any age. You play as siblings who go out for a harmless night of trick or treating only to have one of the kids kidnapped by monsters mistaking them for candy. Children obviously are just too sweet! Then proceeds a quest through 3 different neighborhoods for the search to get your bro/sis back.

While you only get a party of three what's really fun about Costume Quest is finding different outfits to fight bad guys in. You start off with your initial robot costume but to gain others you have to find materials throughout your journey to assemble them. They serve two purposes. The basic one is the fighting aspect. When you go into battle wearing a certain costume you're transformed into your fighter form personified with a special power unique to each costume. The other is a side ability that is an environmental aspect such as using a power to help you see in particularly dark spaces or a shield so you can go under sewer drains without getting drenched in water. The variety of costumes and abilities is what really makes this a fun game.

You can tell this game is meant to be a little bit eerie but its mostly just good hearted, wholesome fun. Fighting is pretty repetitive. Kill the monsters as quickly as possible because their attacks hurt you just as much as yours them, rinse and repeat. The only boss battle that was a bit challenging was the final boss and once you find the right combination of tactics and accessories that'll be simple too.

After you finish the main game there is the Grubbins on Ice expansion which the kids travel to Repuggia to rescue a kidnapped friend. Yes, you are doing the same exact thing as the main story only in a different location with a few new costumes and bad guys to fight. While I don't mind the repetitive story, because that's not why I'm playing Costume Quest to begin with, I do mind that the developers left the ending in limbo, literally. Here I am at the end of this expansion watching the credits role, expecting there to be a little "gotcha" or "surprise" moment. Something to indicate a proper ending. Alas, my ending never comes. It would be a cruel joke had I not gotten a solid 10 hours of gameplay. So I was satisfied. But those guys at Double Fine better have a sequel planned with more super awesome costume quest goodness. There's a lot of potential in this little game.

Story: ^__^ - Generic as hell but still a fun story to play through. In all honesty I was more interested in finding new costumes to fight in and all the quirky things you can do with them. Although it was lukewarm it didn't keep me from enjoying this game. It keeps you busy with side quests as well as optional bobbing for apples / eyeballs mini-game.

Sound: (^__^) - There's no voice acting but things like sound effects and music fit wonderfully setting the overall mood of the environment.

Graphics: ^__^ - This game is pretty polished. Environments look vibrant even when you're running around in the dark. Battle screen takes on a comic strip like view with players and bad guys having really good looking animations.

Overall: ^__^ - I was thoroughly entertained playing this game. I would have liked it more if there was a proper ending to the DLC but got a solid amount of time and I had fun. The dialogue and quests were generally well written and the game never got boring. You can't go wrong playing this game but consider getting it in a Double Fine bundle with a couple of this developer's other great games.

Buy it On: Steam, Amazon

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sword of the Stars: The Pit - Deeper, Deadly and Disgustingly Addictive

I am not a fan of rogue type games. So I was unaware of this title until it was presented to me in the form of Indie Royale's The Starry Night Bundle. Actually this was the game that made that bundle for me. Now too thrilled about the other prospects of this bundle I was more than eager to try this one out. This is pretty much a keyboard / mouse game (was recently updated with controller support) but the tutorial was helpful in giving a quick rundown of the controls and it was easy to use after that.

So the main premise of this game is to get to the bottom of The Pit to find the cure for a disease that is ravaging the planet, which the intro made me think it was another zombie game. Thank god that wasn't the case. The Pit has many dangerous aliens, monsters, traps, crazed humans but no zombies. At least none that I could discover before I died. The furthest I've made it to was floor 21.

When you start the game you have 3 classes of characters to choose from. The Marine, who is very skilled in combat and with weapons. He's definitely a shoot first ask questions later type of character. What he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in fire power and strength. Begins the game with an assault rifle and an automatic pistol. Next you can choose is the Engineer. This character has got the most brains of the bunch and is skilled with electronics, mechanical and all the technical stuff needed to assist you in using all the fancy technology you'll no doubt discover as you descend into the pit. The third player available in our bunch is the Scout. This character is a little bit from column A and B in the guns and brains department.

Whichever you start with you'll eventually want to build up stats they're lacking as you level up. In this game doubling down on some stats while leaving others to whither away might mean the difference between life and death when you least expect it but you can adjust to your play style. Now this game has a pseudo user friendly inventory system meaning there's lots of room but it's not really intuitive. Some weapons take up three or four vertical spots in your inventory. Only thing is that your inventory sorts itself horizontally and doesn't automatically make space where you need it. This is a slight annoyance but means you will be manually rearranging your items whenever you get a large device or weapon.

Another nice aspect of this game is the crafting system. There's cooking and lab stations all throughout the Pit that will allow you to take random items you discover on your journey to create something useful, like weapons, accessories or food. The game does periodically teach you recipes but I've found in the 20 or so hours I've put into this game I have only ever gotten 2 recipes. I'm a big fan of the SotS Wikia which shows about all the discovered ingredients and what items they craft into.

If you like what you see you should consider the Mind Games expansion DLC. It features 2 new classes of ranger and psion and adds a host of new environments, monsters and weapons. Overall this is a great game whether you're into rogue types or not.

Gameplay: (^__^) - High replayability. The base game, featuring 3 character types and 4 difficulty levels and a randomly generated dungeon means you won't play the same game twice. Extensive craft system, enemies that are tough and will kill you if you don't come at them prepared you'll curse this game every time you die but you'll learn from your mistakes and make your way into the Pit again.

Sound: ^__^ - The music for the Pit is eerie and fits well with the game. What I really like are the various sound effects for the creatures that inhabit the location you're in. Because your field of view is often limted to what you can see in front of you it's nice that you can hear a couple of the monsters or machines that might be in the distance.

Controls: ^__^ - Pretty simple to navigate and you can also remap keys and gamepad buttons as you see fit. There's a button for intuitive targeting (shoot the closest thing) but nothing that is complicated or not covered in the quick tutorial.

Overall:  (^__^) - This game consumed hours of my time to the point where I was playing for 3-5 straight and lost track of time just to go one more floor. Luckily there is a save feature as I'm not sure how many floors this thing goes. There's no game breaking bugs, the inventory layout can be overlooked but this game is awesome. What it might lack in ultra fancy high end graphics makes up for in solid gameplay. Tons of achievements and ways to play makes this game a good deal at any price.

Buy It On: Steam, Desura, DRM Free

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stacking - DoubleFine can Make a Game Out of Anything

Do you remember those Russian stacking dolls that you may or may not have played with when you were younger? Well DoubleFine made a game about them. You play as young Charlie Blackmore as he goes on a quest to fine his kidnapped brothers and sisters that have been sent to work in various places for The Baron to pay back their father's loan.

 The general atmosphere is cute, and reminiscent of old silent films. You have an upbeat orchestra playing while you're on your quest and it makes this game feel classy. There is no better way to describe the art style, from character design to the setting everything about this game feels like something you'd play if games were this sophisticated in the 60's or 70's.

Don't worry though this game doesn't sacrifice gameplay for art. Every doll in your adventure has a power and you will have fun finding out the abilities of all the dolls in the game. Some of them are super useful like a handyman that fixes broken equipment to the more humorous and silly, like the seductress or the doll that has the ability to pass gas.

One thing I really enjoy about Stacking is that there's multiple solutions for every puzzle in the game. There's no one particular answer to solve each problem. The game is even good at giving slight hints from the super obvious solutions to really obscure ones. By no means is this game hard but it gives you the option of finding all possible solutions for a problem or just the one. In addition to the main adventure you can go on little side quests to stack a particular group of dolls as well at perform different in-game actions that go towards your completion total.

The main quest will probably take you a good 6-8 hours, a solid 10 if you don't rush and you're a completionist. The Lost Hobo King DLC gives you a separate quest unrelated to the main and adds another hour ot two of play time. Also I should add that this game is pretty child friendly but you can enjoy it at any age if only for the uniqueness of the concept.

Graphics: (^__^) - It's nothing that will tax your VGA using the latest PhysX technology but I really appreciated the silent film graininess of the cutscenes or using certain dolls like the underwater diver and  having my view switch to how things would look like wearing the clunky helmet.

Story: ^__^ - What starts off as a clique quest to rescue your siblings, turns into starting a revolution to end child labor. Each stage having it's own main objective to complete the story was never grossly complex or convoluted. The story was good but I had more fun discovering all the doll powers I could try.

Music: (^__^) - A wonderful instrumental score that grows on you because it just fits so well with the game. You've got a different idea of nostalgia going on besides the chiptuney stuff you find with most indie games these days.

Overall: (^__^) - I really loved this game and think anyone can appreciate this Double Fine adventure. Its something different. Not too complicated that you can't play for an hour or two, leave it for a day and pick up right where you left off. I highly recommend you either buy this game or find it on sale with a bunch of other Double Fine games.

Buy It on: Steam, Amazon, (activates on Steam)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bientôt l'été - The Irony is that You're Playing by Yourself

I love works of art and can appreciate art for art's sake. But as I watched the videos for this supposed game experience, a term that I use quite loosely, blurs the lines between that which we can call a game. Bientôt l'été translates to "soon the summer", which sounds appropriate because you start of on a beach. As the gameplay videos say, you choose your gender, then you go searching for your internet lover.

In the game description on Steam's page the first thing it says is: Bientôt l'été is a videogame for two players. Yet you will almost always be by yourself or waiting for another player. You will walk along the beach by yourself, save for a flock of seagulls adding background noise. You will then reach a house or some kind of indoor space where you will wait to play chess with another player, and wait, and wait.

For a game that's supposed to be about two players you're often alone. This is a truly single player experience that probably had higher expectations of it's goals. Truth is that if you're looking to experience this game with another player you'll be very disappointed. I've never seen a game that wants to be multiplayer but makes no effort to entice people to join. You're left with a bland experience thinking; thank goodness the real internet is chock full of people you can interact with every minute of the day from around the world. Or maybe go and take a walk on a real beach and see other people.

Unfortunately, this game takes relatively pleasant social moments, walking on the beach, playing a game of chess and strips away the very social aspect it wants players to feel. Where games like The Sims, Second Life and other multiplayer have set the standard for social interaction this game fails to deliver the basic of what it promises, a two player experience.

For good measure I played this game with both male and female avatars. As the male I was treated to a mansion like space to interact with in the distance. As I got closer to the mansion I noticed a red window. Naturally seeing a splash of color got me curious so I walked up against the wall hoping to interact with this mysterious red window. I closed my eyes, because that's what the down key does and decide to interact with a tree in the distance. When I finished looking at the tree it put me right back at the red window wall. Only this time I can't interact with anything. I also can't move backwards, can't turn because I'm up against a wall forcing me to quit this experience in frustration.

Perhaps Bientôt l'été would find more success in an art gallery where a smaller cluster of people can experience it together but for mainstream gaming there's just not many people who will get it or have the patience to wait for something that just never comes. Even the AI simulation of a stand in lover during the chess sequence seemed to lose interest and just kept rambling on about nothing long after I stopped talking. I wish I could have had a better experience with this game. I gave it a chance hoping that there would be something surreal going on but for a game of two players you're just playing by yourself.

Gameplay: (T__T) - I can't judge gameplay as there is no game. Why this is being sold on a video game website is beyond me.

Graphics: (-__-) -  Its nothing spectacular and you're mostly drowning in white when you're not staring at some obscure chessboard talking to the AI about nothing.

Controls: (>__<) - While this game does have controller support this suffers from poor design. Walking up to a wall and not being able to turn or walk backwards sounds like a bad design problem. One that should have been anticipated by developers as if the character is stuck you pretty much have to restart the game.

Overall: (ノ`Д´ )ノ彡┻┻ (flipping over table) - I can't in good conscience post the link to the buy page. You should not buy this game. The only reason I played this game was because it was feature with 4 others in an Indie Royale game bundle. If I paid full price or even half I would have wanted my money back. Instead, go outside take a walk on a real beach. Find one of those homeless looking dudes who'll play chess with you for a dollar in the park. Head to Facebook or some internet forum of your choice and start an online relationship with an actual person. Those things would be more fun in real life than this game could ever make them.