Capsule Reviews: It’s A Puzzlement!

Not every game needs to go for epic length status or terminally flashy visuals to be enjoyable. I tend to gravitate to puzzle games when I need a break from other genres  and there have been a few really cool ones this year. Here’s a quick look at a some of the ones I liked a lot:

 

solar flux switchSolar Flux (Nintendo Switch, $9.99): Firebrand Games’ great space-themed puzzler may look simple, but it riffs on classic arcade gameplay with homages to Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Puzzle Bobble, a bit of Star Castle and probably a few other titles my brain can’t recall in a really fun, challenging manner. While it’s at heart, a supremely soothing experience, the reliance on touchscreen-only controls combined with limited fuel and the need for precision movement of your very fragile ship means you’ll be getting a game that won’t easily be mastered in one sitting. Yes, the music is ear-pleasing and completely chill, but if you’re easily flustered by even the tiniest of mistakes, the gameplay can get pretty tense if you’re not able to tip-tap-steer your way out of trouble. Practice makes perfect, folks.

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That challenge ramps up geometrically during the 80 missions set across 4 galaxies, but nice looks and all, you’re not here to do any sightseeing. Getting the best times as things get complicated is somewhat tricky (but rewarding). So expect a few retries and perhaps a few times when you’re just putting the game down for a bit and coming back later if you lose that zen-like concentration. Don’t worry, though. Those assorted suns you need to recharge will be there when you return. All is good in this universe, just relax and it’ll be quite the thrill.

Score: A (90%)

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Review: Iris.Fall (PC)

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Do you love challenging puzzle games with a mysterious vibe? Well, Iris.Fall ($14.99) is waiting for you with open arms to tickle your brain for a spell. Developer NEXT Studio had crafted a lovely and often deviously designed game where your brain will get quite the workout and playing at your own pace is welcome. This isn’t any sort of action or platforming game where you’ll need to worry about enemies and assorted hazards. Nope, what you have here is a well crafted gem that plays with some of those conventional elements by adding them to the game as puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress.

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Not a place to lose a contact lens, that’s for sure…

 

After awakening from a dream, Iris follows a black cat into a dilapidated theater, traveling back and forth through a strange labyrinth of light and shadow. As the story unfolds, Iris begins to realize that everything in this theater seems to have some kind of hidden connection to herself.

 

The story is played out wordlessly and is a bit vague at the start, but things fall into place as you play and pay attention to each reveal as well as interact with certain objects. I won’t go into detail because the game’s more of a “play it and see where it goes” deal and it’s also a relatively brief experience that feels like a bedtime with a somewhat unsettling tone. Puzzles start out simple enough, but ramp up to be some pretty solid brain twisters that require a bit of deep thought. Most of them will have you scouring the lovely artwork looking at and for clues to progression, but some are variants on classics found in plenty of point & click adventures. Connecting wires in a circuit box or shifting parts of a puzzle inside a small box, for example, and there’s a multi-part sort of Rubik’s Cube-inspired sequence in one area that’s a cool diversion while it lasts.

 

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Capsule Reviews: Get Me Reroute! (Or: Part 2)

Heh, oops. I had a little router issue not long after posting yesterday that had me a bit flummoxed after several restarts and too much waiting around, but we’re back on the boat and headed somewhat upstream, whee. Anyway, back to more of what you should be playing or at least looking at with a thoughtful gaze:

 

 

forgotton anne boxForgotton Anne (PS4/Switch/PC/Mac, $19.99): No matter what you get this one on, it needs to be bought, played and thoroughly enjoyed. If the words “playable anime” get your ears perked up, you’ll be pleased to know that developer ThroughLine Games has created exactly that, as well as a love letter to the works of Studio Ghibli. A beautiful hybrid of adventure, platform and puzzle game with a bit of detective story for good measure, it’s also (in my opinion) hands down, the absolute best game to date to come out of the Square Enix Collective program which focuses on getting more indie games out to the masses. Go download and play the PC or Switch demo (the latter is on the eShop) and you’ll see this one’s an instant classic.

In addition to a memorable lead character and well-told story, the game’s visuals, voice acting and soundtrack are all phenomenal. The addition of multiple dialog choices makes the game quite replayable because the manner in which you interact with characters or solve problems alters a few plot points or closes off some paths. This isn’t a game about fighting tons of enemies, leveling up or the usual stuff you may expect. It’s a story-driven game where you’ll appreciate the quality of the finished work as you’re drawn into the plot and memorable characters for as long as the experience lasts.  I’ll go as far as to say this one is one of my favorite indies of 2018 and it should be one of yours as well.

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Everywhere you look, there’s something to see that catches your eye in this game.

This is a game I’d even highly recommend non-gamers have a go at, as there’s neither a life bar to worry about nor a true Game Over state. That and with a controller, even the slightly tricky longer jumps that need to be made aren’t a total pain. Just watching Anne’s animation as she gets around is a joy, and yes, the different Forgotlings are equally impressive. While this game probably won’t get a sequel, if ThroughLine wants to do another Ghibli-inspired game, I certainly won’t stop them. Hell, I’ll be cheering them on and hoping it’s as good as or even better than this is.

Also, if this ever gets a physical edition at some point down the road, I say get it just for anything art-related that comes as part of the package. Well, the game, too, but yeah, seeing more of this gorgeousness is a thing that’s necessary in a more physical over digital manner.

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To paraphrase ZZ Top: “She’s got wings… and she knows how to use them…”

Score: A (95%)

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Capsule Reviews: Mega Cats, MagiCats, and Other Critters of Note

Yes, we’re playing a bit of mega-catch up here, but it’s a weird and wild season on a few fronts and staying in an entertaining mood is quite tricky when the walls and floors are moving constantly. Anyway, here’s a few quick takes and hearty Holiday Gift Guide recommendations, kinda retro games division. Buy them all if you’re into what they bring to the table:

little-medusa-sega-box Little Medusa (Sega Genesis/NES/SNES): Mega Cat Studios has been pumping out some truly excellent retro content for those who still own either original hardware or the means to play cart games on those newer retro consoles. Little Medusa is a tough little number that will have fans of the classic puzzler Kickle Cubicle grinning and grimacing in equal measure as they play through this colorful, challenging update to the Irem arcade and later, NES hit.

As Artemiza, a young goddess transformed into a Gorgon by the escaped Titans, you’ll need to turn enemies into stone using her steely (stony?) gaze and quickly push them into place in order to clear five tricky levels of increasing difficulty. This one works best if you’ve a trusty, well-used controller or a new one that’s super responsive. Like plenty of classics from the 8 and 16-bit era, expert players can whip through this in a lazy weekend, but the thrill of a good game is always having it handy no matter how many times you’ve beaten it, so all hail Mega Cat for getting this out in physical form at a few price points so that collector side is satisfied.

Score: B+ (85%)

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Review: The Shapeshifting Detective (PS4)

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That’s the lovely and quirky Violet (Aislinn De’Ath). Is she the killer? Maybe? I dunno, but she’s certainly looking like she’s about to be one in this screenshot.

TSD_boxI consider publisher Wales Interactive as the new gatekeepers of the FMV (Full-Motion Video) flame these days simply because they’ve put out a number of memorable modern titles that bring this style of game to players in full HD glory. Yes, the Digital Pictures comeback (Night Trap, Double Switch) is a good thing for those who recall the 1990’s fondly through those older games. But Wales’ modern FMV output stands out with better production values, less gimmicky casting and some decent mature story lines as hooks that make them well worth a look.

Granted, there’s a fair bit of comic relief to be found in D’Avekki Studios The Shapeshifting Detective ($12.99), but it’s a case where if you’re into what’s on display, you’re chuckling with the game rather than at it. A murder most foul has been committed in the sleepy town of August and it’s up to you to help solve the crime. Well, it’s not you, but a character named Sam (which isn’t really his name) who can transform into other characters who’s tasked with discovering the culprit. The game works well on a few levels where thinking outside the box can net some interesting results that will change each time you play based on how you handle those transformations and who you interact with.

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Esmonde Cole is Zak, handsome man with a camera who knows how to use it to get what he wants. You’ll see he makes quite the suspect as well. Killer? Oh, we shall see…

 

Your initial suspects are three tarot card readers holed up in a fancy inn run by a strange woman who’s taking pills that cause partial memory loss. The list grows as the game progresses (a shady photog, the victim’s boyfriend, a potential victim and a few others you meet) and you’ll discover less than perfect alibis all around as well as a few revelations that both help and hinder your efforts.  The intentionally loopy nature of the gameplay will keep you guessing for a bit, but as you start piecing things together, you’ll be dialed in for the long haul each session.

 

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Review: Heavy Fire: Red Shadow (PS4)

Heavy Fire RSWhile previous games in the Heavy Fire series have been on-rails shooters a tiny bit (but not exactly) like a non-gun controller version of Time Crisis with a whiff of modern military shooters set in fictional locations based on real word military hot zones, Heavy Fire: Red Shadow ($19.99) is more than a little reminiscent of the arcade version of Beach Head 2000. For those with short memories (or those who’ve never played that older game), it was a fixed turret shooter where you mowed down enemy troops and vehicles, blasted planes out of the sky and pretty much laid waste to as much as you could in a 360 degree radius until you were overrun (or just ran out of credits). While a bit on the shallow side in terms of gameplay depth, this latest installment packs in enough stress relieving bang for the buck that keeps it replayable.

Well, provided you don’t mind dealing with a few troubling bugs that really need patching.

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“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”  Ha. Ha. (BOOM!), Now you have quite a few too many guns.

 

That said, I’d gather that some fans of the series from its beginnings as digital titles on the Nintendo 3DS may be disappointed in this because of the lack of co-op play, which a game such as this kind of needs to spread the fun past one’s home. You do get PSVR support in the retail packaged version that adds some “in your face” moments (usually in those moments when you’re yelling exactly that to some enemies on the receiving end of whatever ordinance you’re blasting or calling down on them). But those plain-ish visuals tend to get a bit mushy in VR compared to other games using the format. Granted, it’s not supposed to be a “great” game in that way some games become “instant classics” these days. But, if you just love all sorts of digital pyrotechnics and can bear the bugs, step on up and have a seat – it’s your turn at the turret.

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Review: Western Digital 2TB Gaming Drive

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Okay, I paid good money for some fanfare music, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Eh, just read the article and have your wallet handy.

One of the more easily solved gamer issues is also something that still seems to stymie some gamers who should already know that a mere 1 terabyte of dedicated storage (which is actually less than 1TB thanks to mandatory system clutter) is far too small once one starts purchasing more content. Demos, DLC, system themes, video footage, screenshots and more all require precious space and yes, that 1TB is very rapidly filled (usually sooner than one thinks). Sure, you can delete content left and right when a new game drops, but this becomes problematic for a few reasons.

Western Digital’s Gaming Drive (available in 2TB ($79.99) and 4TB ($119.99) versions) is a solid, solidly built, supremely easy to use affordable solution to this problem and yes, makes for an excellent purchase for yourself and/or any PS4 gamer on your list.

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Review: Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Heavy Burger (Nintendo Switch)

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Holy… wow. this game is too freakin’ incredible. BUY IT. Or at least hope that Mr. Turbo has plans to get in onto a platform you can play it on.

 

Ahem. Every so often a good, well-made game of any genre makes me want to wax poetic, so here you go, a rhyming (not “rappin'” as I can’t do that at all unless it’s leftovers that need storage in the fridge) review of quite a fine Switch game you need to buy (ASAP, as its really, really good). Yes, the (very) old Bad the Bard alter ego has resurfaced from the grave, so expect the following verse to be cringe-worthy at best. Very cringe-worthy, apologies in advance…

(Takes out invisible lute and busted Casio VL-10). Er, go watch this rather conveniently placed trailer while I warm up… I’ll be back below the jump.

 

(Thanks, Flying Tiger Entertainment!)

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Review: Ninjin: Clash of Carrots (Nintendo Switch)

ninjin switch cubeHa. less than thirty seconds into developer Pocket Trap’s excellent Ninjin: Clash of Carrots ($14.99) and I’m cackling like Renfield because while it’s being marketed as a “beat ’em up” style endless runner game, it’s more of an arcade shooter/brawler hybrid and a damn good one at that. Of course, you may need to adjust your brain past the clever marketing stuff and your play style from “runner-based slug-fest” to “arcade shmup/beat ’em up”, but trust me, it makes a pretty cool game all the more cooler once you do.

The story is pretty simple, but comic timing courtesy some well-placed jokes and visual gags at every opportunity keep things fresh and funny.  Your character of choice (Ninjin the rabbit or Akai the fox) is tasked with zipping through the game’s super-colorful levels collecting a village’s stolen carrots while taking down waves of enemies and a series of increasingly challenging sub-bosses and bosses. Yes, you can see it as a sort of brawler based on the many weapons and upgrades you’ll recover from downed baddies or in the two shops you’ll discover.  However, switch to playing this as a coin drop arcade shooter and you’ll see those items in a new light.

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It’s either R(abbit)-Type in disguise, a more hallucinogenic Fantasy Zone, or some other old arcade shmup retooled for today’s gamers. At least that what I get from this auto-scrolling and shooting/slicing stuff.

 

Firstly, the constantly scrolling levels and enemy waves are pure shmup, as are things such as recognizing enemy patterns and the necessity of upgrading to better weapons as you go. Granted, the need to tap out moves constantly is more of an old school shmup and fighter/brawler thing , but you also get screen clearing moves, ranged weapons that feel lifted from shooters and an overall sense of fun that’s addictive enough to make one crave more when the experience is over. Yes, you have swords, spears, axes, meat (!) and other weapons to swing away at baddies with. But the non-stop pacing is made to keep you on your toes as enemy speed and ferocity varies from simple to nightmarish, fluctuating a few times as the game progresses.

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Review: ZARVOT (Nintendo Switch)

Zarvot Switch CubeTrying to nail down ZARVOT (A Game About Cubes, by the way) into a specific niche is, in an amusing way, a waste of time because it’s a perfect example of using a less by the book scholarly critical analysis and more of a “shut up and play it!” approach. While you can (and should) snap this up for the solid multiplayer modes, it’s worth the $19.99 alone for the brilliant Story mode and its blend of adventure and puzzle game elements, droll to laugh out loud humor and straight up surreal nature. It’s also a master class in game design as well as showing off the versatility of the Unity engine thanks to Sam Eng (@snowhydra), who put 4 years into making this great looking instant classic. Oh, and the soundtrack? yep, worth paying for as well.

In a nutshell, cube pals Mustard and Charcoal set out to put together the ultimate birthday present for their cube pal, Red, stuff goes wrong and needs to made right. There’s a lot of laser fire involved in this and saying anything more would ruin a hell of a lot of surprises. When you find yourself putting down a controller to either laugh at the absurdity of it all or pause to reflect on an emotional issue a character is facing (for cubes, insects and other assorted creatures, they’re quite… human, warts and all), you kind of get a better sense of game appreciation. I actually wish this were on a physical game card because it’s one of those keepers that might get lost in the well over 1200 games (and counting) filling up the eShop.

But I’m getting all scholarly and critical here, so let me stop that and dip into the fun stuff…

 

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