Review: Space Cows (Switch)

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What are you doing to that cow, man? Oh, never mind…

cq5dam.thumbnail.319.319Ha. I remember a little game called  Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure that got a few major censorship issues way back in 1994 on the Sega Genesis because it was deemed too crude until a few odd edits were made. Walkabout Games’ hilarious Space Cows ($12.99) laughs at the very idea of censors as it farts at every chance and is pretty funny and weird for a hardcore twin-stick shooter. Let’s just say expect psychics will come into play somewhat and you’ll need to work within the game’s control scheme if you want to fully enjoy the ride.

As Best Regards, a farmer who’s cows have been swiped by aliens, it’s all up to you to get then back with a handy toilet plunger as your main weapon and a bit of gassy propulsion to keep you aloft. Don’t try to pretend this makes any sort of sense, though. Other than the well-implemented physics system that makes the game tougher, this isn’t exactly rocket science.

Or is it? (roll trailer, please):

That said, between the main game proper and the wealth of short mini-games, there’s a heck of a lot happening here and your sense of humor needs to be tempered with a sense of understanding that the game is doing it’s darndest to offend at every turn (which is a good thing). The 20 levels take a bit of work to complete, but expert players can expect around three or so hours to complete everything. Still, with three play modes, only the best of the best will experience every difficulty level.

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Review: Everdark Tower (Switch)

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Collins’ powerful skills make mechanical foes no trouble.

everdark towerThe second in Kemco’s quick play RPG series, Everdark Tower ($4.99) is a tougher game overall in terms of most battles and the inclusion of puzzle elements, yet still an easy time for veteran players. Granted the game is, like Archlion Saga before it, made to cater to novice players new to the genre. That said, expect to lose a few battles until you level up and unlock skills that make most fights in the final chapters somewhat of a cakewalk.

While the game is meant to (and can be) completed in about three hours, there’s one puzzle in Chapter Two that’s somewhat of a head-scratcher that pads out the running time a few minutes or more unless you look up how to solve it. Even then, it’s a weird bit of business because the helpful fairy that you can use to solve a puzzle earlier is nowhere to be found, leaving you high and dry unless you know the solution. I more or less stumbled on the solution after about half an hour of trying, but your time will vary (hey, I’m older and slower than most people!).

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Well, most of the puzzles are easy-peasy stuff.

As with Archlion Saga, health is pooled and based on equipped gear, so the best gear you can get will help. The enemies starting in Chapter Three onward can be a hassle, but aren’t impossible to defeat with skills your team will acquire (or using stars to restart if you’re beaten). The game isn’t complicated at all save for that aforementioned puzzle, but search where you can when you can as there are a few items off the pathway you’re (optionally) meant to follow.

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Review: AI: The Somniun Files (PS4)

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Get a clue, Date. Bet a cluuuuuuue.

AIBrilliant. Spike Chunsoft keeps it perfectly weird at all times with AI: The Somnium Files ($59.99), a visual novel/adventure that’s one of the best games of this type to date in terms of accessibility. Granted, it opens with a disturbing crime scene, but that gory mystery to solve (and a few others as the game goes on) becomes the starting point for Kaname Date’s adventures and every investigator needs a good mystery, right? Of course, Date soon realizes this case has ties to his past (you’ll see) and with some assistance from Aiba, his trusted partner who resides in his left eye socket (you’ll see), things get more or less cleared up (the AI’s have it, heh).

The victim, her husband, and whip-smart young daughter all have connections to Date and Date’s oddball (eyeball?) relationship with Aiba is part of the game’s pull. She’s necessary to solve a few puzzles both in the real world and the Sonmium dreamscapes you’ll dip into. Her real form is an oddly cute tiny cyclops bear thing, but in dreamscapes she takes on a more humanoid shape partly because she thinks Date’s tastes lean toward pretty women. His do, but Aiba’s form appearing outside of dreams is too distracting for him at certain points.

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Brainnnns. Expect to see a few odd dreams for Aiba to mess around in.

Gameplay combines a bit of thinking with plus trial and error in the timed Aiba segments, plus traditional point and click sections where Date investigates plot elements and clues. The latter are untimed sections where camera movement is confined to whichever location Date happens to be in while Aiba’s sections are limited to six minutes. Retrying Aiba’s more freeform portions can be done either from auto-saves, from certain spots by adding or subtracting time or by retrying if you get stuck on solutions and time expires.

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Review: Injection π23 ‘No name, no number’ (PS4)

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Kid: “Hey, mom What’s for lunch!” Mom: “Why, the corridors of the MIND, child…”

Injection PS4While it’s technically imperfect and a bit unpolished, Abramelin Games has a pretty frightening survival horror game for PS4 owners in Injection π23 ‘No name, no number’ ($9.99). That ten bucks gets you a pure passion project (made over the course of five years) in the form of a multimedia game experience featuring puzzles guaranteed to test your brain cells, unsettling monsters to avoid or fight (in that order) and plenty of horrific nightmare fuel imagery. It’s noted before you start to to wear headphones and play in the dark, but I opted out of the headphone use part after trying this for the first hour and needing to remove them because I was kind of freaking out a wee bit too much (the sound design is pretty damn intense).

You play as a rather troubled man living alone with his dog in Villanueva de Tapia (a village in Málaga, Spain). When his pet runs off, he’s seemingly struck by a truck while giving chase and regains consciousness only to find himself in a twisted variation of the village and yes, still needing to find that dog. In pure survival horror fashion, you get disturbing visuals, locked doors that require opening in one way or another, and as noted, the aforementioned monsters. You’ll also discover a mystery about missing townspeople, murders and torture rituals with a religious angle and more depravity. The mix of Unity engine assets, enhanced live action video clips and appropriately timed jump scares keep things tense throughout where when things do quiet down, there’s still the sense that something’s going to happen. Let’s just say Villanueva de Tapia’s tourism numbers will either rise or decline after this game gets more notice, although my take is it’ll increase if horror fans are curious enough to see how scary a spot it is in real life.

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A little walk in the woods to clear the head isn’t going to help much when you’re too scared to take another step.

Exploration will be the first key to your survival, as the game places all sorts of clues to what needs to be done but doesn’t highlight where you need to search. One of the great things the game does right off the bat is allow for four camera angles to choose from on the fly, similar to Riverhill Soft’s Doctor Hauzer and OverBlood games. This freedom lets you explore how you want from classic Resident Evil style, two different third-person mode and first-person, although you can expect that first-person mode to deliver those creep-tastically ugly monsters in your face as they try to eat your face off. Plan accordingly, but expect to do a bit of jumping in fear on occasion when you’re surprised.

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(Not-So) Random Film of the Week: Barry Lyndon

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Where it all begins for one Redmond Barry.

Barry Lyndon is a story which does not depend upon surprise. What is important is not what is going to happen, but how it will happen.

Stanley Kubrick

barry_lyndon_ver1_xlgMy first introduction to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was via the most likely means most 11-year olds with little to no interest in certain three-hour plus films made by somewhat visionary directors had at the time: MAD Magazine. I do recall that particular issue was confiscated from the classmate who owned it later in the day by a somewhat strict English (Literature) teacher who didn’t appreciate his not paying attention during her class. Fortunately, the magazine was returned the following day with a note that student had to take to his parents about his reading habits during class and oddly (or not so oddly) enough, a public library copy of The Luck of Barry Lyndon for him to read, write a book report on and return to the teacher. It turned out the teacher was a big fan of Kubrick’s film but had never read the MAD version, so she took it home, read it and liked the parody. Thus the somewhat unusual  temporary gift and form of “punishment”.

You gotta love good teachers, friends. Go and hug one today (er, with consent, of course).

I’ve had the feeling for some time that I may have wished for such a tremendous fate back then, as it took quite a few years more for me to actually read the book Kubrick adapted and altered somewhat using groundbreaking lighting techniques and some of the most gorgeous and true to life costume recreations ever put on film. It’s also a film where you can practically hear its director chuckling as he reworked the book into his own style that in my opinion, fits in well with Thackeray’s original writing. Droll, deadpan humor is laced throughout the dramatic scenes, all of which are masterfully composed shots that may have you pausing the film to admire a landscape or painterly composition (of which there are many). Excellent performances from the cast all around also help, as does realizing that Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) isn’t supposed to “act” here in the sense of a person throwing himself into a part and chewing up the scenery. He’s perfectly cast as a man in a particular point in history where both good to terrible things happen and he reacts as he sees fit (which isn’t always accordingly).

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Review: CRYSTAR (PS4)

Crystar PS4“Brilliantly depressing” is how I’d describe CRYSTAR ($59.99), Gemdrops Inc. and FURYU Corporation’s new Action/RPG published by Spike Chunsoft, but let’s not get too far ahead of things.

Rei Hatada and her little sister Mirai are pulled by a strange being into an odd dimension called Purgatory where violent creatures soon appear to attack the two. Rei manages to unleash a hidden power that gives her a powerful weapon and fancy costume, but she accidentally kills her kid sister during one battle. As she cries at losing her sibling, two oddly garbed female demon twins appear and make her an offer she can’t refuse. Become an Executor for the twins and kill enough demons in Purgatory in order to gather enough Idea (tears) to save Mirai’s soul before it descends too deep and gets reborn as a completely different person. You get one guess as to Rei’s decision.

Thus, the downward spiral begins in a game that will hit home hard for some players thanks to its assorted mostly gloomy thematic elements and a story that has a few surprises tucked into its narrative. Thankfully, while a tad (okay, very) downbeat at times, the game is gorgeous to look at. Illustrator RIUICHI’s work was lovingly translated into 3D characters by Character Designer & Modeling Lead ntny and the game also features an outstanding score from composer Sakuzyo that’s worth a listen.

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Wake up, time to cry. And you thought you had issues. Rei’s literally surrounded by her and her slain foes mental status, even during dungeon diving.

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Review: Omega Labyrinth Life (Switch)

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Tagline time: Come for the boobs, stay for the rock hard dungeons! How does that grab you? Er, on second thought, don’t answer that.

Omega LLAs a longtime fan of turn-based rogue-like dungeon crawlers on consoles since 1990’s Dragon Crystal on the Sega Master System (which I still own), I knew Matrix Corporation’s sexy, supremely goofy and at times straight up hilarious Omega Labyrinth Life ($59.99) would be right up my alley. While I can heartily recommend the game to like-minded crawler fans, that Mature rating means puritan types and those easily rattled by sexual content and rampant fan service need not apply.  If you’re still interested and want to dive in head first to a new experience, you’re going to want to go on with an open mind to anime gals in saucy situations, a bit of gardening busywork in between dungeons and plenty of breast-related humor and optional mini-games definitely not for the kiddies.

Amusingly enough, the Switch version is content-wise, superior to the more censored PlayStation 4 version (which is still somewhat racy). There’s a plot here, but all you need to know is Hinata Akatsuki, new transfer student to Belles Fleurs Academy, finds herself in deep after she arrives and the school’s famed 100-year old flower garden  suddenly dies. Initially, the blame is laid on her shoulders, but she sets off into the dungeons that have appeared under the property to figure out what’s going on and to prove her innocence. Hinata won’t go it alone, though. The Academy’s most promising students plus a few tiny but large-boobed fairies all end up as her co-adventurers during the game and for a few dozen hours it’s quite a bouncy ride on a few fronts.

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It’s a good thing that gals here grow bigger boobs as they level up, as that allows some forward protection from slipping on hardwood floors. Allegedly.

For all the breast-themed stuff, rampant innuendo and bawdy humor galore, this is a pretty lightweight (but enjoyable) game on the story front. That said, the dungeons can be brutally hard after the initial tutorial maps. This is a great thing, as the random nature means every run past that point will deliver assorted challenges, monsters and items guaranteed to keep you on your toes. Leveling up increases your selected party members cup sizes (up to a Z-cup!), which go back to normal once a dungeon is cleared. Dying in a dungeon means you lose all your currently collected items unless you take out a bit of costly insurance on gear you’d like to re-buy once you’re above ground. There’s a wealth of stuff to discover and uncover (ahem), but we’ll put that ball in your court and let you have at it as you please.

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Review: SEGA AGES Space Harrier (Switch)

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Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. GET READY!

Hell, even if I were to think I was born ready for it, back in 1985 seeing and playing Sega’s Space Harrier for the first time in an arcade was a total and unexpected blast. Granted, it wasn’t my first psuedo-3D sprite-based shooter (Willams’ still phenomenal BLASTER was an instant fave for me two years earlier), but Yu Suzuki’s even more instant classic made for a more lasting impression thanks to its more superbly detailed visuals, rock-solid 60fps gameplay and yes, a somewhat crushing difficulty level for beginners. Watching someone play any of the three cabinet version was thrilling enough. But as a player, if you lucked out and got one of the sit-down versions with that big flight stick and body-shaking tilt feature, it was pure gaming bliss that left you maybe a bit wobbly after a few too many replays. Ah, memories!

Still, Suzuki’s game was perhaps too well made, just like his other supremely reliable arcade hits some take for granted these days. This is a game that is flawless in execution, but might be seen by the more jaded gamers out there as “repetitive” because they don’t see the beauty past the lightning fast speed and brilliant use of color. Ever busy developer M2 has done another outstanding job in porting the game to Switch for the ongoing SEGA AGES project ($7.99 per title) in both its original form with a new stage select, optional visual filter and control additions and a new version of the game called KOMAINU Barrier Attack that adds infinite continues and two small stone lion statues to aid Harrier in his quest.

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Screenshots really don’t do this game any justice. Some heads will roll for that.

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Review: Archlion Saga (Switch)

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Well, you can’t get lost at all in this game, but you can turn the arrows off if you want a less guided tour of the maps.

archlion sagaShades of the initially underappreciated (and still disliked to this day by some) Final Fantasy Mystic Quest drift through Kemco and developer Hit-Point’s entry level JRPG Archlion Saga ($4.99) and yes indeed, the game will definitely ruffle some feathers among the noisy gamers with unshakeable opinions (too often presented as “facts”) who never seem to think that players new to any genre just might like a welcoming title they can complete without a video walkthrough or wanting to bust controller into pieces against a nearby wall.

That fiver you’re spending gets you a game that can be completed in a few short hours, auto saves whenever you do pretty much anything and is so simple that anyone of any skill level can play it.  It also offers a bit of replay value for those who want to run through it again (you can opt to keep your levels and earned currency). There’s no need to “git gud” here at all unless you overuse the auto-battle option that can actually wipe out your party if you get too careless in the 4th and 5th chapters when and the random battle system decides to slap you with the occasional strong enemy pack. Amusingly enough, if for some reason you feel the urge to grind levels, late in the game there’s a dragon who heals your party at no cost whenever you speak to it. Given that healing herbs drop frequently (you can stock 99 at a time) and you start off with an amulet that restores a few hundred HP in battle, this might not be necessary, but it’s here nevertheless.

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Hmmm… we kinda know how this is going to turn out, but okay, let’s pray along…

“So, it’s a kid’s game, then?” you ask? Sure, you can say that, but it’s one that while colorful and easy on the eyes and ears is a tad gloomy in tone what with the 1000 year return of the evil Serpent and his curse mark dooming the population and you, the Archlion King out to stop that threat with the aid of a few allies. Cue up the handy trailer so you can see what’s what:

One thing the game does that works well is streamlining the story so you meet up with your party members with no aimless wandering about. Your party’s hit points are accumulated into a shared pool with numbers based on equipped gear. Each of the four characters will learn and an use three powerful Skills (the game has no magic points), all with different cooldown times and a few that can only be activated under certain conditions (e.g., after guarding for one turn or after taking certain amounts of damage). Granted, the game is easy enough that you can beat it without any major strategy whatsoever.  That said, it’s just nice to have the option to play with each character’s skills, especially the one that lets you steal items from enemies (which can net you some nifty gear and free healing herbs) or the one that puts most enemies to sleep for a brief period.

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Especially once you start using those Stars to power level, Bram.

While exploring the short maps, you’ll gain Stars needed to unlock doors and chests, but you’ll also earn them by playing the game for a certain period of time without taking a break. Those stars are also used to pull off powerful attacks and double experience gained after battles, so you can pretty much become too overpowered by the game’s final chapter if you like. Of course, NOT using any aids makes the game a bit more challenging. so feel free to experiment. The pixel art here is great overall, particularly the big, colorful monsters and bosses you’ll meet and beat. Sure, the assorted human foes have no facial features, but most of the more mystical beasties do and they’re all excellently rendered. The music is suitably 8-bit sounding bliss that feels just right, but don’t expect a wealth of tunes given the brevity of the experience.

The funniest thing about playing this was I was able to compete it once while waiting for a few downloads to complete (some larger games on PSN and a Windows 10 updates that had me offline for about 4-5 hours). Hit-Point has a few decent ideas here that I think need to be applied to a larger project at some point down the road, but for what it is, this isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours if you’ve got a Switch, five bucks to spend and don’t mind some hand holding in handheld or docked mode. While I won’t call this an “essential” game at all, it’s cheap enough and so user friendly that it feels as if it’s trying too hard to please. But that’s somewhat of a relief in this era of games where you’re forced into that “die, rinse and repeat until you don’t die” loop that can be frustrating for a select few.

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He may be a big scary cartoon jerk, but you can beat the devil out of this devil with relative ease.

Score: C (70%)

-GW

Review: Solo: Islands of the Heart (PS4)

solo ps4Gotham Games new jam Solo: Islands of the Heart ($19.99) is an intriguing and lovely to look at mix of exploration and puzzle solving that just so happens to get you thinking about your love life from the past into whatever possibilities the future holds. While the prospect of ruminating over old romances as well as any potential future ones may seem a wee bit too personal to some, that’s one of the funnier things about the project if you think about it. Sure, you can take the questions too personally and maybe get uncomfortable about a few. That’s human nature at work. Or hell, you can just decide right off the bat to go full tilt and lie away (also human nature) just to see what sort of responses the game gives back.

As you make your way through the game, you’re tasked with solving simple to slightly more complex multi-part puzzles that involve a bit of box pushing with some flipping and rotating necessary to gain access to higher areas. There are also odd animals to meet and treat to certain foods, pet, or otherwise attend to. The game doesn’t explain a lot other than some basic steps needed to progress, but this works out well when you’re forced to think through a few steps that are keeping you from accessing a new part of the map. That said, there’s a very relaxing tone here that makes for a very chill experience when all is said and done. If you want to just take selfies or nice pics of the different islands, play a guitar and aimlessly wander about, that’s your call entirely. But dip a toe into the game proper, please. You’ll likely learn a few things or at least get a new outlook on a relationship you hadn’t considered. Or maybe have, but need a poke in the noggin to jog a good or bad memory.

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Ce n’est pas un pont, to get all Magritte on you.

Er, except the trailer kicks off with a rather useless rating for “Sexual Themes” when the game is about as or sexual as a box of laundry detergent. Well, unless boxes of laundry detergent is a turn on for you. Clearly, the ESRB needs to redefine its ratings descriptors. Perhaps something like “Mature Themes” would have been more applicable here. Of course, a penny says someone at the board would likely note that using the word “Mature” may lead some to think the game should be “M” rated or some such nonsense. Eh, go look at all the sexual in this trailer:

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