Review: Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe (PS4)

They’re baaaaack. Full motion games developer D’avekki Studios has made the big leap to self-publishing with the digital release of Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe,($12.99) which is now available on the PS4, Xbox and soon, Switch. The game comprised of six episodic tales of a somewhat supernatural nature, with ghosts, a werewolf, a hungry painting demon, a bizarre love triangle and more. Although the game features a few toe-dips into light horror, it’s more of a creepy dark comedy where a bit of previous homework with Davekki’s earlier titles goes a long way in explaining some of the quirkier aspects found here.

Poe (Klemings Koehring) and Munro (Leah Cunard) first appeared in 2018’s great little gem The Shapeshifting Detective and they return in this standalone set where we get to know their characters a bit more, but yes, there’s even more mystery going on in the small village of August, which seems to be a magnet for offbeat supernatural occurrences. In “Frankie” the pair need to deal with a persistent stalker with surprising results. Let’s just say Poe has a way with a knife but we haven’t heard the last of Frankie in this game.

“In Bed with Poe and Monroe” is next, and it’s about a 24-hour radiothon where the two characters need to raise funds to keep the station afloat by staying in bed together (not THAT together) while broadcasting live. Well, it’s about so much more, as a sleepy Munro discovers a few times. Poe also makes a few discoveries that are equally revealing as a jealous ghost (Ayvianna Snow) appears to make his love life even more complicated. This episode has a few scenes like the first where shocks drop in and affect the outcomes of paths to wonderfully different results. More of this strangeness will come.

In Episode Three, “Green With Envy”, the pair are racing against time to find a kidnapped and drugged student (Warrick Simon) before his time runs out. Time is of the essence as the duo’s decisions in this chapter affect the ending and all depends on how you choose to investigate the case. There’s a pair of laugh out loud innuendo bits here when Munro visits guest house owner Violet (Aislinn De’Ath) and a little De’ath goes a long way when Munro misinterprets some simple queries before asking her own. Poe gets his way (sort of) with a pretty teacher (Ashleigh Cole) who may be a suspect, but who’s the mysterious Yvette who calls into the show to say she’s the kidnapper?

Episode Four, “Everybody Changes” brings a hypnotist into the studio, Madame Baratsky (Lara Lemon), who puts Munro into a trance where she relives a past life and tells a disturbing tale of murder. As mentioned above, playing that chapter made me go see the Doctor up close and personal (I bought the game last year on the PS4), an experience I highly recommend. In any event, this episode made me want some sort of Doctor Dekker followup, or at least the desire to replay that game again a few more times.

In Episode Five, “Many Happy Returns”, it’s the day before Munro’s birthday, there’s a full moon and a caller rings in to note he may have almost run over a werewolf. Guess where out two intrepid adventurers are headed? If you guessed “Why, to find out if that’s true, but not before a possible time traveler named Kaspar (Vincent Gould) calls, then shows up to the studio!” Well, you need to be in your own game, as you’re psychic. Like all the episodes, there’s a set-up of events and situations here that definitely hints at more. This give players a hint that the sleepy town of August is quite the nexus for bizarre happenings (like the sudden rock, paper, scissors game in this chapter).

Finally, Episode Six gets truly freaky with “It Started with a Wish” where we get a soul-eating canvas demon named Rose (Rachel Cowles) who lives inside a painting. She grants Poe a wish, which he has to pay for by having Munro hide nine capsules as prizes for ‘lucky’ listeners to find. Those capsules are supposed to have museum tickets inside, but (surprise!), they have a less pleasant gift awaiting. You’ll see. Poe’s wish has very huge consequences both he and Munro have to deal with and there’s a sort of David Lynch meets Night Gallery thing here when the characters have to deal with the results.

As noted, the game teases very much that there are many more August takes to be told, and I like that Poe and Munro’s relationship goes where it does in different ways depending on your choices. In terms of production, this one’s pretty solid. Without fancy effects makeup or gore, the game still conveys an eerie, scary vibe when it needs to, But it’s also funny, sexy and mature where it matters. Some may feel the vignette nature of the episodes might be better served as a single story arc. But I found that a game where time travel seems a quiet reality, dryads may actually exist and so many possible outcomes from charming to deadly are at one’s fingers that I’m all aboard for more. Recommended.

-GW

Review: Ord. (PS4)

From ever-busy publisher Ratalaika games and indie developer Mujo Games comes Ord.($4.99), a minimalist adventure game that tells its short stories three words at a time. Split into five tales with a bit of replay value in each (Quest, Dimensions, World, Foul Things and Heist), the game will also have you brain filling in most of its visuals. It’s also part memory test in that there’s a Groundhog Day-like loop to overcome where choosing certain answers won’t advance the story, but instead, send you back to choose differently.

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That said, there are no “wrong” answers here. In fact, choosing every option will lead to some surprises and abrupt (sometimes fatal) endings. The minimalist thing in taken to extremes here on both the visual and aural fronts. Other than the title screen, visuals are just text on a black background with some stylistic touches like thunder, lightning, rain, a bit of fog and yes, you’ll want to have a drink in the tavern just to see the blurred result. For me, the sole flaw here in there’s no story tracker, so on a replay, you may get temporarily stuck (a notepad will come in handy here). Playing the game through once won’t take long and those trophies drop pretty quickly once you get rolling.

Overall, Ord. is a pretty decent and nicely experimental bit of fun. Ratalaika’s been on a roll lately with more hits than misses of late. So I’ll have to get to covering more on their interesting titles from it’s rather intriguing lineup shortly.

-GW

Review: Cosmic Top Secret (PS4)

this one’s something else…

Indie publisher nakana io’s latest, Cosmic Top Secret ($9.99, multiplatform) just might be one of the best surprises of 2021.Part historical document, part adventure with a detour into a bit of mystery, the game tells the gripping tale of Trine Laier, or “T” as she goes by in the game as she tries to uncover just what her parents did during the Cold War. Fascinating and supremely surreal, the game is compelling from start to finish and would even make a pretty good true spy film, intentionally goggle-eyed protagonist and all. But don’t take my word for it- take a look at this gameplay:

There are puzzles to solve, loads of clues to gather and enough intrigue here to keep your brain and fingers busy. T navigates the environments by transforming into a paper ball and rolling about. You’ll also need to master a bit of jumping,. which comes in handy when you get stuck and later on you can transform into a plane, which has it’s own uses you’ll discover. The game also had you collect all sorts of specific secrets T needs to unlock other secrets, all while trying her best to get her dad to tell her about the past. Have another trailer, folks:

The visual style is both striking and genius, especially the more humorous aspects found in the work. Early on, you’re told how to skip text using a very lengthy explanation on the Cold War. The game helps out here by cutting off the lengthy text with something like a “Blah, blah, you can find this stuff on the internet” quote. Dossiers and a few machines are used to break codes but a few of the puzzles and some of the trickier movement areas may stump players temporarily. T can also toss grenades and later smoke bombs to find certain secrets, but that can be a bit imprecise until you nail that task perfectly. Also, that sequence with the angry buzzard in one level can be irksome if you roll off the path and fall a few times. Progress is auto-saved at certain points, but you’ll want to manually save from time to time (just in case…). Th game can be completed in around eight hours or so and it’s time well spent because you’ll come away quite impressed at what you learned. I know I certainly was.

Yes, indeed it is!

The really cool thing here is you don’t need a pricey console to play this on as the game is also available on Google Play and the App Store, so you can enjoy this on your even more overpriced phone or tablet, ha and ha. As a exercise in storytelling, the game excels on a few fronts and the overall experience is one that will stick with you for a while. Highly recommended, of course.

-GW

Now, Where Were We? (Or: Crazy Times, Indeed)

Hi there. So, where were we again? Oh, right. Some big things are cooking on the legal/financial front, so that’s been taking up a chunk of time (boo!). Nevertheless, I can’t say much after that other than I dislike having to do so much stuff nearly every day to get a relative what’s legally due because the process intentionally convoluted and some things needn’t be so damn irritating, but here we are.

Uh, subject change? Movies? Sure, okay.

(Thanks, Warner Bros Pictures!)

I saw JOKER a few times and the Birds of Prey flick twice last year. Both are quite interesting takes on characters with different complex mental challenges as unreliable narrators and yes, one comes off as far darker than the other with the latter film having a much higher body count while the former is pretty bleak on every front with initially a lower body count, but a longer damage reach. The main differences between the two being the direction and how the victims are treated. Birds of Prey has plenty of bad folks who get what’s coming to them and it’s presented as comically as possible though some energetically portrayed violence. But you also see a few innocents dispatched by villains who are somewhat worse than the main character. As the kids say, props to the main villains here for being so phenomenally twisted.

(Thanks, Warner Bros Pictures!)

On the other hand, JOKER is in a way, much like Harley’s loopy tale, but a lot less “fun” to watch. It also goes rather intentionally all over the map, but Arthur Fleck’s story along with its more realistic violent content reflects the reactions its main character has to his internal demons and not all of the victims here deserve what they get. The violence is more shocking and in a few cases, unexpected, especially a brutal scene later on where you get a sudden victim and a surprise survivor. In both films, the actors playing the leads do some fine work overall, although I have to give the edge to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (I’m not into awards shows, but that Oscar win was well-deserved).

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Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PS4)

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The Chaos Engine, or Circle of Life in action, if you will…

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-boxartWell, this one’s a pleasant and goofy surprise. Sometimes the silliest and most simple games ideas just work and Mediatronic’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout ($19.99 on Steam for PC, Free this month on PSN) reinforces this perfectly. The 60-person enter, one person wins element is pure battle royale insanity (a genre I usually avoid), it’s weaponless mix of puzzle, sporty and trap packed levels offer up some tough and hilarious navigational challenges and overall, it’s just about as good as it gets for a game of its type.

Sure, there are micro-transactions here, but they’re not at all necessary to jump in and start playing. You can get some cool cosmetics with currency earned from just playing the game, or you can pay real money for stuff if you’re in a hurry to look cooler as you fall or get knocked off assorted hazards multiple times. In other words, there are no performance-enhancing purchases here (so far and I hope there won’t be in the future). Besides, the developer and publisher need to make SOME money with this one, but it’s actually nice that PSN users at least get to more or less play free and not choose to pay… well, until they need some of the stupidly cute skins and outfits that pop up.

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It’s all fun and games, especially if someone gets cartoon hurt.

A constantly rotating set of 24 levels means you can’t predict what’s coming, but loads of dying and plenty of practice await. You just need to hope you can survive the chaos as it happens. Yes, there are some super-skilled players out there who can dive and dash through areas and as you play, some tasks get easier to plow through than others. But the lack of voice chat thankfully keeps one’s ears from burning off from what I’d imagine is some hefty amount of creative cursing taking place at some ignominious last second defeats. Although, yours truly actually screamed “Oh, Bugsnax!” at my TV after one terrible but funny loss because I’d exhausted every curse word I knew and that upcoming PS5 game’s name just popped into my head.

Then again, this is a game where you’ll watch someone winning a match and then lose it by accident when a platform vanishes suddenly, or they get beaned by a falling slice of parachuting fruit. Some players seemingly try to take out other players by lurking near an exit (grrrr!) and lunging at them or maybe hoping to be as threatening as a giant jellybean in a funky getup can. It’s all good though – sometimes you get the last laugh (well, until you lose in a future round) when the game decides to drop random survivors at the results screen to get the next stage kicking.

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Review: Nightmare at Noon (1988)

Home, James

So, if good guys wear black, I guess, uh…

NAN.BR.Cover.72dpiWhile it’s absolutely packed to the hilt with stunts, thrills, and explosions galore (and how!), Nico Mastorakis’ 1988 flick Nightmare at Noon isn’t exactly the brain food of action movies. In fact, if you go in expecting even a decent plot to speak of, your brain may beat you somewhat senseless about two minutes in and turn itself off so it can enjoy the wild ride without you gargling on about what small amount of plot there is. Basically, if you miss the opening credits, there goes the story, and there’s not much there to begin with (and even less if you’re looking).

All you need to know is a secret scientific agency (or not so secret, as they roll around in two black custom vans with their agency’s name on them!) has chosen a small US town to experiment with some nefarious goings-on and it’s up to a handful of gun-totin’ tourists and local heroes to make things right.  So you get Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, and Kimberly Beck starring with George Kennedy and Kimberly Ross versus that town full of newly green-blooded raging townspeople and a bunch of well-armed bad guys. A strangely silent Brion James kicks the flick off as the mysterious Albino, but despite all his evil machinations, his total lack of dialog actually hurts the film despite the nearly non-stop action that follows. I gather he was paid enough for bleaching his hair and wearing some contact lenses to make him look albino and decided to charge by the word for dialog or something?

(Thanks, ScreamFactoryTV!)

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Capsule Reviews: Ghost Grab 3000/Singled Out (Switch)

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You can’t be afraid of no ghost when you have the ability to use a nuke as an option.

I’d like to think that Matt Glanville (@crowbarska) has a working time machine permanently set to 1983 he’s not telling anyone about, as his games I’ve played to date all look and play like solid arcade hits of around that time. Switch ‘N’ Shoot is still one of the more thrilling and flawless uses of single-button gameplay I’ve experienced and now you have two more retro-inspired titles to  blast away with, both quite good and deceptively simple on their surfaces, but each will have you hooked in for as long as you’re playing.

Ghost Grab 3000 ($4.99) is a nifty shooter that’s a hybrid of bullet hell and strategic shot placement as its lead character needs to line up or gather well-armed ghosts and blast away as many as possible while trying to survive each round. There are a couple of weapons to whip out in an emergency situation, plus a nice upgrade system with over 100 combinations allowing you to tailor your ghost grabber as you like. Part of the fun is buying those upgrades and enhancing your character, as you can create a hero that makes the game easier or, if you want to play with as few upgrades as possible, harder. That’s a bad idea, by the way – go buy and use those upgrades, I say.

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Soul Searching: Going Native (With Dragons on the Side)

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Make mine a double, please…

In the load of stuff I need to get to in this current crazy time, review code for a little game called Soul Searching popped up in the inbox a while back and you can say I’m intrigued by the project enough to move things around and play for a bit. I’ll get to the main story mode later in this post, but let’s talk minigames for a bit. There are seven ‘Short Stories’ as the game calls them, and they can be accessed from the menu and played in any order you like. but the game will run them consecutively if you start from the first one and complete each minigame.

Publisher nakana.io has released a few unique titles so far where its different developers’ personalities are on full display in each work, so there’s a lot going on in each game, from the art styles to the approaches to gameplay. Soul Searching is brim full of weirdness as the simple pixel-heavy art in the main game gives way to some rather intense slices of mind from its developer in minigames that feature assorted visual styles ranging from simple childlike scrawls to vector graphics and crude polygonal characters. In those brief segments, you almost get a sense that indie developer Kayabros (Talha Kaya) is working through some of life’s problems and you’re along for the ride for better or worse.

(Thanks, Nakana Games!)

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Review: Demon’s Tier (PS4/Vita)

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Instructions for real life, as well.

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Nostalgic is the good word here.

The latest pairing from COWCAT and Diabolical Mind, Demon’s Tier+ ($9.99, buy it!) is an excellent example of a really good game that got much better with a slew of quality of life improvements. While the game follows a clear Gauntlet meets Diablo style of play, a strict time limit and intense difficulty combined with randomly generated levels make for quite the thrilling, replayable ride.

This isn’t a simple “one and done” trophy hunt at all. Rather, the game is an equal to Diabolical Minds’ other retro-inspired pixel-packed releases, Riddled Corpses EX and Xenon Valkyrie+, two other solo or  two player co-op team-ups worth a look. It almost feels like the developer has captured a trio of long lost late 80’s arcade machines in these three titles, all of which demand practice and patience to master, just like the old days.

Story:

Thosgar, a hated king attracted by demonic rituals, turned into a dark and diabolical being… destroying almost all of humanity and flooding the world with monsters. This story became a legend and peace returned to the land.

A thousand years later, a mysterious pit appears in a village after a huge earthquake where an evil aura emanates from…

Will you be the hero to save this world?

Don’t you hate it when that happens? Well, good. Grab your PS4 controller or Vita, and let’s send those demons back to where they came from, pronto.

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Random Film of the Week: Shin Godzilla

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They’re going to have a meeting about having a meeting, most likely.

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Sometimes, a kick to the Shin works.

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla is, for all intents and purposes, more of a grand live action anime because it translates much of its visual style and energy rather successfully from some of both of its creators’ previous well-known animated works. It’s also a sly poke at Japanese government bureaucracy where every decision has to go up a few ladders and lengthy meetings are constantly being held even as a horrific, mutating monster makes its radioactive presence known.

As a reboot of the classic franchise it works excellently in delivering a new and more terrifying Godzilla that mutates from a googly-eyed giant, arm-less gilled beast that flops and slides along because its body can’t hold it up, to a 400-foot tall nuclear blasting fiend that requires a lengthy cooldown after it uses its powers. This isn’t a Godzilla who’s a kid-friendly lizard who punches other monsters in the face and goofs around. Nope, the film takes it back to the more horror-laced 1954 original in terms of tone, laying on a modern plot where every decision made needs discussion and division heads and other leaders change into fancy jumpsuit ensembles just to look official while executive orders are issued.

(Thanks, Funimation!)

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