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

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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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Ollie The Useless Robot: And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor

I’ve actually never played a game from Flippfly Games (although I need to at some point) and that trailer above makes this new game look far too frustrating to even go near. But it’s exactly the type of game that fits my current mood and condition so I get to laugh and point at someone else doing the eternal balance thing and failing miserably at it. Is this some sort of metaphor for life these days? Mmmmaybe. Well, at least I think so.

Hey, it may be an experimental project in Flippfly’s Tiny Games series, but if the developer get some Patreon-fueled ad dollars up into a TV or internet spot and a few weeks to get console and mobile ports done, I’d bet everyone with some sort of game system this will run on will be flipping and flopping with renewed purpose. Hell, I’d even be playing it just on the off chance that I’d actually complete a stage and not want to jump up and down on my controller of choice. Unless it’s a Switch controller with drift issues that actually helps me win big because of that particular design flaw nonsense (hi, Nintendo, grrrr!)

-GW

Review: Rise of Insanity (PS4)

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Oh, there’s a whole lot of wrong here and nope, Better Homes and Gardens isn’t making that phone call foe a feature, that’s for sure.

ROI_boxDespite an ending you can see coming a mile away and an English translation riddled with typos, Red Limb Studio has cooked up a pretty decent scare game with Rise of Insanity ($12.99). While it borrows heavily from a few sources (notably, Kubrick’s version of The Shining, bits of The Exorcist and Silent Hill), it’s got a few good unsettling moments and an overall creepy vibe that works well. That said, the game’s short play time works both for and against it in that you want to see and do more when things work, where on the other hand, horror game veterans who’ve seen it all may find the experience underwhelming if they go in with overly lofty expectations or expect some sort of “survival horror” experience with zombies, weapons and a huge body count.

Nope, this one’s another first-person “gather items and clues, read diary entries and such” deal (I despise the denigrating term “walking simulator”, by the way) where puzzles are fairly easy, the scary bits do exactly what they need to (provided you’re not too jaded) and unless you apply too much real-world logic to the experience, ends up being enjoyable at the end of the day. Well, “enjoyable” is a sort of suspect word for a game where your character can die from a few of the more frightening encounters, but I think you know what I mean.

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Someone forgot to bring a dime to have their fortune told, it seems…

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Another Sight: Kit and Cat in Victoria-Land

As we’re a wee bit swamped today, I’ll go with the official line on this rather interesting looking PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch game from developer Lunar Great Wall Studios and publisher Toplitz before a review code arrives:

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ANOTHER SIGHT is a surreal fantasy adventure with steampunk elements set in London in 1899, towards the end of the Victorian era. With an emphasis on culture and character, ANOTHER SIGHT focuses on the emotional development of the relationship between its two protagonists, Kit, a refreshingly intrepid teenager, and Hodge – a mysterious red-furred cat. They meet in the darkness of a London Underground construction site after Kit loses her sight when the tunnel, she had been exploring collapses.

They team up for an adventure into the unexpected, with Hodge proving himself to be an indispensable companion, upon whom Kit will come to rely. Kit and Hodge explore a surreal fantasy world, both together and separately, each using unique talents to make their way through compelling environments and to solve intriguing puzzles. Beneath London, in a world inspired by Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy, Neverwhere, Kit and Hodge encounter a hidden society made up of the world’s greatest inventors and finest artistic minds, including Claude Monet, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and other historical, cultural icons.

Did you want screenshots with that? Well, here are a whopping 45 to peruse:

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It sure looks as if a great deal of work went into this one, so here’s hoping it’s a memorable game experience. I’ll be back in a bit to let you know, of course.

Oh, before you get all “Hey, where’s the Xbox One package?” – there wasn’t an image in the press kit I got (so there!).

-GW

Remothered: Tormented Fathers Makes the Switch (A More Frightening Place)

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No weapons here, just lots of staying alive by your wits… or else. Oh, and the story’s killer, too.

The story unwinds around Rosemary Reed, a determined 35 year-old woman who arrives at the dilapidated Felton house to investigate on the disappearance of a little girl some years before. When the hosts realize the woman’s true intentions, a terrifying ordeal begins.

Thanks to a ridiculously large backlog, I finally got around to buying and playing a chunk of Darril Arts and Stormind Games’ quite intense Remothered: Tormented Fathers on the PS4 and yes indeed, it’s quite the scary slice of horror game genre fans need to play. Fortunately, Nintendo Switch owners will be finally getting the chance to dive into this modern classic thanks to collaboration with the Japanese publisher DICO Co. Ltd. Comparisons to the now defunct Human Entertainment’s brilliantly executed (heh) albeit dated-looking Clock Tower are interesting and inevitable, although, I’d say creator Chris Darril’s influences also include Italian horror flicks of the 70’s, a weapon-less Alone in the Dark and a few other things.

As with other Unreal Engine Switch ports, it’ll be really interesting to see how it turns out in terms of performance and visual fidelity when stacked up to the other console and PC versions. It’ll definitely be scary as hell as a game experience, so it’s got that going for it right out of the gate.

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That’s the release date, folks. Have your time carved out and play this in the dark with some decent headphones for maximum results.

Additionally, fans of the first game will want to keep an eye on the prequel/sequel, Remothered: Going Porcelain, which is currently set for a 2020 release on PC and consoles. So much fear… so little time, right?

-GW

Review: Riverbond (PS4)

Riverbond boxIn this era of big deal brutal difficulty in games where progress is sometimes measured in thrown controllers, assorted creative swearing and online rage posts (among other negative things) Canadian developer Cocucumber’s simpler, pure fun to play Riverbond ($24.99) is a rare bird indeed. In solo mode, it’s barely mildly tough at times, but the average player should have little trouble getting through its eight nicely-sized maps without blowing a fuse. In co-op, up to four players can have at it in front of the TV and have a total blast beating up enemies and bosses while packed together on the couch or sitting more comfortably on some other furniture. There’s no online mode here, so the game’s old school feel demands you play old school as well.

Which, by the way is a great thing especially if you’re into family friendly entertainment and love super-colorful voxel graphics with a bit of environmental destruction tossed into the mix. Oh, and lots of character skins including eight from a few very cool mostly indie-made games. For all the bloodless hacking, slashing and shooting going on, the game just exudes a completely… nice vibe that’s too charming to pass up. I think there’s also a polite Canadian thing going on (well, all of the Canadians I know are pretty polite), but whatever it is, I do like it quite a lot.

Here’s the tutorial, by the way:

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Riverbond: A Little Big E3 Surprise For You

Brand new games dropping as surprise releases during E3 isn’t anything new, but Cococucumber’s immediately charming Riverbond ($24.99, PS4/PC/Xbox One – OUT NOW!) made me smile a lot and post that trailer on Twitter with the words CUTE. and WANT because it just jumped right out and bit me on the knee with what looks like a really fun dungeon crawler with nifty voxel-based visuals, destuctible environments, and what sounds like a killer soundtrack. Oh, and it has Raz from Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2 in it as a character skin (along with a few other indie fan fave guest stars), so there’s that to consider. Guess who’s not at E3 this year (but still has a busy week ahead) and would just love to get his paws on this game? No, not that person over there (Hwy, put your hand down, pal!). ME.

Well a request has been put in and we shall see what happens.  This sure looks like a ton of fun, right? Back in a bit – Yeah, yeah, there’s a LOT of news coming out of LA about cool games, but I’m rolling stuff out as I see fit because my stress level is already bubbling up about other (non-game) things.

-GW

Review: Golem Gates (PS4)

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Riffing with Glyph-ing: choose your cards wisely, or else suffer the fate of the unprepared.

GG_PS4Laser Guided games mostly excellent Golem Gates ($24.99) made me wish attract screens were still a thing in modern games. While it’s a solid and enjoyable take on the Real-Time Strategy (RTS), card collection and MOBA genres and translates well enough from its keyboard and mouse-centric PC origins to a game controller, it’s also the sort of game where a rolling demonstration mode would just be a cool thing to have happen when the game is booted up if only to get a few more people on the fence about it wanting to give it a shot.  If you’re super-old school and need a sort of reference point, imagine Herzog Zwei, StarCraft and DoTA having a baby and getting it onto PC and now, consoles and you’ve got an idea od what to expect.

Granted, if you’re buying this game for yourself, you know exactly what you’re getting into and likely don’t need any persuasion. Conversely, if a friend drops over and is itching to know what the big deal is, you’ll just have to have them plop down on the couch or wherever and play as they watch, or pick up a controller and join the fun if they’re more than a little curious. Thankfully, other than the rather dry main screen that greets you along with Dalvan King’s stellar music, the gameplay hooks you right in if you’re a fan of this sort of play. Kicking off with a tutorial that explains the basics, your Harbinger uses cards (called Glyphs here) to summon up a small variety of troops and useful goodies to assist in dealing with assorted enemies as you attempt to take out the enemy Harbinger. In Campaign mode, that list of Glyphs gets larger as do the enemy types that need crushing, and yes, decks can be created and customized to your liking as new Glyphs appear.

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Jet Lancer: Get Airborne With this Cool-Looking Retro/Modern Shmup

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Jet Lancer is a frenetic aerial dog-fighting game where you hunt enemy pilots, carve up giant robots, and defy death at supersonic speeds as a daring mercenary in the far future.

 

Armor Games Studios upcoming Jet Lancer looks as if it’s going to be a hell of a blast to play on a few fronts. While currently only set for a PC release on Steam, it’s exactly the sort of game that seems as if would do quite well on consoles  what with its great pixel art and speedy arcade gameplay. While there’s no news on a port yet, my fingers are crossed that developer Vladimir Fedyushkin is at the very least, well within range of a few console development kits, or at least knows someone who can tackle the porting job.

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As usual, we shall see, but go wishlist this game on Steam if you have a Steam account, I say.

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I’m looking forward to taking this one out for a test flight, so expect some sort of aerial report in the not too distant future.

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-GW