Capsule Reviews: Rooms of Gloom and Doom and Such

Hey, I’m still here plinking away at a few health issues, but here’s something to read while I’m in recovery mode.

There’s a certain type of gamer I call “Trophy Hunters” who seem to rely solely on video and/or text walkthroughs of certain games in order to snag easy rewards in the form of digital Trophies or Achievements. Yes, this style of play kind of saps the fun factor out of games by breaking them down to into easy to digest “how to” posts. But there’s an odd benefit to this in the net effect of selling quite a few budget to fully priced indie to AAA titles that might normally not even get a sideways glance.

That said, when played as they “should” be, there are a number of these inexpensive titles that are really worth the effort it takes to complete them using one’s brainpower and maybe a pen and notepad for some of the trickier puzzles. Anyway, without further adieu, Here are a few indies that kept my old grey matter cooking that are worth a look:



PRIX_13Planet RIX-13 (PC/PS4/Vita/Switch): Indie developer 9 Eyes Game Studio (with a big assist from Sometimes You for the console ports) takes it back to the good old adventure game days with this simple-looking and somewhat straightforward sci-fi yarn about a space pilot who crashes on an alien planet and needs to find a way off… or else. Without a walkthrough, the game can be a bit of a mind-bender when you come up against situations where your character is killed and your brain is not wanting those deaths to transpire. The amusing thing here is dying in all the possible ways allowed by the game is a big part of netting those Trophies, so get used to expiring in a few ways as your adventure progresses.

While the game isn’t lengthy at all, it’s replayable if you decide you want to see every choice via playing in a linear manner. As noted, a few of the trickier puzzles may stump those who tend to think to literally or who don’t quite grasp that this isn’t a conventional narrative when it comes to how certain sections play out. For the record, I did cheat on one puzzle because it involved going in and out of a certain doorway in a certain order and yes, I ended up face-palming myself when I looked up the solution and discovered that a number of players had also gotten waylaid by that one spot. Hmmm… I guess there’s something to this trophy hound stuff after all?

Score: B (80%)



STAY (PS4/Vita): Quinn has a big problem. He’s been kidnapped and wakes up in a room alone with a computer and you, the player on the other end trying to help him figure out what he’s doing there and how to escape. Indie dev Appnormal’s game is an award-winning slow-burner that features a totally needy subject who will question his sanity (and you) during the five or so hours it takes to play this hidden gem. The game ‘s text driven dialog isn’t quite Infocom levels of brilliance, but you’ll see some decent writing as you try and help (or hinder) poor Quinn’s existence. Each play will be different as the game runs in real time and the simple act of going to do anything that takes you away from Quinn and his plight will cause him to react in assorted ways.

Death also makes an appearance here in a few shocking to amusing ways, and you’ll probably feel a twinge of guilt or maybe relief at some of Quinn’s fates if you find yourself not wanting to be on his side. Has a game character ever been so needy? Well, if you were in his shoes, you’d very well likely want a sympathetic ear and a key of some sort to get the hell out of that situation, I’d bet. In a way, STAY is a more cerebral version of a SAW film (minus the gore) with a retro pixel art style and mature-rated gloom to spare. Not exactly fun for the whole family, but well worth a look and play a few times for its uniqueness.

Score: B (80%)


Drowning PS4Drowning (PS4/Switch): From indie dev Polygonal Wolf (and yep, Sometimes You handling the port) Drowning isn’t a hard game at all, but it’s probably going to be seen as hard to play by folks who don’t like the “walking simulator” genre. This short narrative about a teen with depression has you traversing some nicely rendered low-poly environments as text appears onscreen actually has 17 rewards to discover, some of which are easy to miss unless you poke around at certain points during the experience. The game requires a few replays in order to experience everything in terms of locating those Trophies, but I’d say it’s worth the effort just for the overall presentation alone.

Intentionally languid and yep, extremely thought provoking, the game’s sole flaw is its English localization which could have used a bit of proofreading. A compelling narrative centered around a common issue many deal with loses a chunk of its impact when assorted grammatical errors get in the way of the experience. That said, if you happen to be a fan of a more cerebral sort of game and want something to make you think for quite some time, this comes recommended with the gentle suggestion to go read or watch something a lot more amusing afterward or at the very least discuss the game with a few like-minded folk who’ll appreciate the perspectives the game offers.

Score B (80%)



Layers of Fear: Masterpiece Edition (PS4/PC): Nicely creepy first-person horror-themed game about a mad painter’s obsession with a few things grim and disturbing. No spoilers here other than to say expect a few innnnteresting (and quite dark) surprises if you go in totally blind and don’t use any sort of walkthrough. There’s a certain nightmarish atmosphere the game sets up and if you’re one to pay attention to the unfolding plot, it’s clear that this isn’t your average jump-scare game when all is said and done.  A good set of headphones is recommended here, as the sound design goes a long way in keeping you totally freaked out and jumpy when things start getting weird.

The DLC expansion expands the story with the painter’s daughter getting her chance to tell her story, an equally compelling tale with its own twists and turns. Same house, new frights and that overall sense of dread seeping though to keep you awake and staring at the ceiling at night if the game hits you exactly where it needs to.

Score: B (80%)



Access Denied (PS4/Vita/Switch): Amusingly enough, when I got an email about this game a few days back, the subject line (which was the game’s title) made it seem as if the developer was refusing a request for a code. Thankfully, I opened and read the email and yep, got a code for this really cool puzzler from developers Stately Snail and Ratalaika Games. You’re tasked with solving unlocking an increasing challenging series of puzzle boxes that range from easy to brain-melting. It helps quite a lot that the game is somewhat gorgeous to look at thanks to simply focusing on the puzzle boxes and the small area you unlock them in.

Zooming in on and rotating those boxes is key to solving those puzzles, as each has clues to find that, with a bit of thought, will show how simple or complex the solution is. Here’s a perfect case for NOT using any sort of help at all because there’s a true sense of accomplishment in using your head to decipher a seemingly obtuse code, firing up a few switches in their proper order and nailing a puzzle box with puffs of smoke pouring out of one ear thanks to all those underused brain cells getting some mental cardio. I’m still about 9 boxes away from completion, but I’m going to go on ahead and score this one with a recommendation if you love to be put on the spot and dig some funky puzzle action. That and hell, you never know when a Lament Configuration will drop into your lap, right? Er, on the other hand, maybe being too brainy wouldn’t be a good thing in that particular case.

Score: A (90%)




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